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June 16, 2011
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June 16, 2011

José Mourinho


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ASK PEOPLE WHAT MAKES MOURINHO UNIQUE, AND ONE COMMON response is this: His players adore him. Didier Drogba, the prolific Chelsea striker, says he felt "like an orphan" after Mourinho departed London, in 2007. "He's a great man," Drogba says. "You can see how close players are with him. He has a way of getting into players' minds as a manager—and as a man, the kind of man who's ready to give you all his confidence and trust because he expects that you'll give it back." Drogba, too, shed tears when Mourinho left, one of the few times, he says, that he has cried in his adult life.

Materazzi's native language is Italian. Drogba's is French. Mourinho has a rule: When he addresses his team, he does so in the language of the team's country, the better to integrate the players into the club and the culture. (At Inter he spoke Italian even though only four of his 24 first-team players were Italian.) But in meetings with individual players Mourinho communicates if possible in their native tongues. "By speaking five languages I can have a special relation with them," he says. "A player feels more comfortable explaining emotions in the language where he has no doubts."

In other words Mourinho's ability to connect is equal parts psychology and linguistics. To sit across from Mourinho and interview him is to be subject to a form of high-level seduction. He'll lean close, elbows on knees, hands folded together, as though he's sharing a secret that nobody else knows. Is it a performance? Of course. But isn't most of sports? Mourinho is the sports world's version of a pickup artist.

Manchester, England, March 2004. Who is this man? How dare he violate the sacred turf of Old Trafford? It's the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, and tiny Porto has just stunned the soccer world, scoring in the 90th minute to eliminate mighty Manchester United. Now Mourinho is racing down the touchline—fists pumping, coattails flapping—all the way to his celebrating players at the corner flag. Who is this man? He's an attention magnet, that's what he is.

UNLIKE MOST MANAGERS MOURINHO BROKE INTO ELITE COACHING not as a former star player—his brief career as a defender ended at age 24—but as an interpreter. He translated for English manager Sir Bobby Robson for five seasons, first in Portugal and then in Spain, at Barcelona. When Robson left Barça, in 1997, Mourinho stayed on as an assistant coach under Louis van Gaal, earning the Dutchman's trust for his tactical acumen, player relationships and detailed scouting reports. (Mourinho had started analyzing teams as a teenager for his father, Felix, a former player and coach in Portugal.) "He works like a crazy man," says Drogba. "At Chelsea he was doing the same [scouting reports] for fourth-division teams in the FA Cup as he was for Manchester United. It shows you how serious he is."

By the time Mourinho took over at Porto, in 2002, he'd formed a guiding soccer philosophy. The decisive moments in most games, he argues, are transitions, the instants when teams spring from defense to attack (and vice versa) after a change of possession, when opponents can be off-balance. "These are periods of three or four seconds," he says. "If the players are of high quality, the game sometimes is nonstop. You must have a great balance. That's why I believe in having players with the tactical culture to analyze the game. All of them have to think the same thing at the same time. It's not basketball, because in basketball there are five players. Here there are 11."

If the game is about transitions, so too is Mourinho's career. He moved from Porto to Chelsea to Inter Milan, never staying more than three full seasons at one club, dominating the headlines more than any of his players. "I had the luck of making history in those three clubs," he says. "At Porto it was winning the [2003--04] Champions League without money. We played Manchester United and Real Madrid, where the salary of one player was enough to pay the Porto team. [Coaching at] Chelsea was also very special, because it was the first time Chelsea was champion [of England] in 50 years. In the ['09--10] Champions League with Inter we were far from being the most powerful team. We had to play four times against the best team in the world, which was Barcelona."

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