There are very few managers in any sport who come to dominate it irrespective of the teams they coach.
In soccer the great managers – Matt Busby (Man Utd), Bill Nicholson (Spurs), Bill Shankly (Liverpool) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Man Utd) – did so with one club. Few of England’s managers had continued success at club level which may go some way to explain why so few have been successful. Look at cricket or rugby and the same applies: continuous success has been elusive.
So when Internazionale Milan FC won the European Championships in Madrid on Saturday evening we saluted, some grudgingly, a very great coach-manager, Jose Mourinho.
I was at Old Trafford for the European semi-final in 2004 when Porto drew 1-1 with a late goal to take them through to the final. Porto was a small, financially challenged soccer club in Portugal. It didn’t rank in UK minds alongside other great Portuguese sides like Benfica. Blow me if they then didn’t go and win the Final. This was an astonishing success to most of us notwithstanding that they had won the league and double and EUFA Cup the year before.. Their manager was Jose Mourinho.
His success at Porto soon brought him to the attention of UK clubs and Chelsea hungry for success after 50 lean years brought him in and he soon made his mark winning two League titles in 2005 and 2006 but Europe success was elusive though Chelsea still made two semi-finals something new for the club. But, given the unlimited financial resources available to Mourinho, the fact that he could not repeat his success at Porto, counted against him. Chelsea was being marked against the astonishing success of Manchester United. This was understandable but unfair.
Chelsea had been a trophy free-zone for so long that the idea that a manager could come in and win every league and cup immediately shows the short-termism of soccer clubs as they begin to resemble their counterparts in the City.
Mourinho lasted two and half seasons at Chelsea and on top of his league success he won the League Cup and the FA Cup.
My own thoughts were that Jose would go to Barcelona (where he’d been as a junior coach), Real Madrid or Manchester United (though it is hard to see who will next coach them until Sir Alex has beaten Liverpool’s 18 league titles). Clearly, I hadn’t much of a clue about management because to nearly everyone’s surprise Mourinho went to Inter Milan in 2008 who, a bit like Chelsea, had seriously underperformed over the past 30-40 years and had had to live in the shadow of AC Milan much as Chelsea had done to Arsenal FC in London.
Anyway, we all know that even with less than 30% of the ball, Inter beat Bayern Munich in the European Championship in Madrid on Saturday evening 2-0. Jose therefore joined only two other managers who have won the Championship with two clubs. He is the rarest of talents and even if he does upset some of the blazers and some of the senior managers in the game, Jose is the best of the best. Of course, we also know he has signed to manage Real Madrid which has an expectation as big as his own ego so it will, as ever, be interesting to watch his progress. My guess is that Real will be back, first in Spain in 2010-11 and then in Europe in 2011-12.