x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Hat-trick objective for Jose Mourinho in the Champions League

The Portuguese alchemist continues to get under people's skin because he keeps winning. His quest for a historic third Champions League title continues tonight in Munich, writes Duncan Castles

Jose Mourinho has had success with the clubs he has managed so far.
Jose Mourinho has had success with the clubs he has managed so far.

You would be forgiven for thinking his name was Machiavelli not Mourinho. The caricature that has gained global currency is of the Dark Prince of Anti-Futbol – a man who repeatedly, deliberately besmirches the beautiful game.

In Barcelona tonight, authors of the popular myth will watch and hope Bayern Munich mortally wound their tyrant translator. Their grand nightmare is of Jose Mourinho concluding this special season with dominion over them in both the Spanish and Uefa Champions League.

European football is two semi-finals away from an event it has never experienced before, a Clasico Champions League Final.

In between the two legs of Bayern-Real Madrid and Chelsea-Barcelona, there is to be the last Primera Liga meeting of two Spanish sides considered the planet's strongest. And it is not Barca, for many the finest ever football team, who enter in the ascendancy.

That negative, defence-minded, ill-disciplined team moulded in Mourinho's "ill-educated" image remain ahead of Barcelona in Spain. Their four-point advantage enough to keep them there even if they lose at Camp Nou on Saturday.

And the Anti-Futbol that allegedly placed them there?

That has produced 107 goals in 33 matches – with five fixtures remaining already a record for a league campaign in Spain. Nine more than those football purists from Catalunya.

Still a manager who has elicited record-breaking performances from Cristiano Ronaldo is labelled negative. One who fields Angel Di Maria on the other side of his attack, Karim Benzema in the middle, Mesut Ozil behind; has either Fabio Coentrao or Marcelo as a super-aggressive left back, and permits Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Ricardo Carvalho to attack from defence.

The myths perpetuate themselves. When Real win it can be attributed to their intrinsic dominance.

This though is a club that has not claimed the European Cup for a decade in which just three league titles have been added to their roll of honour.

In the same 10 years, Mourinho has twice taken the Champions League and won twice as many league titles. (And he began that period at little Uniao Leiria, spending another nine months of it out of work.)

Because he has succeeded with five separate clubs during Real's fallow European years, Mourinho is described as a "short-term" manager. Criticised for an intensity of method that is said to leave former employers worse off than when they hired him.

His CV actually charts a natural progression from Leiria to Porto and on to Chelsea, where Roman Abramovich chose to dismiss a coach who had delivered five major titles in three full seasons.

Porto took two years to reacquaint themselves with domestic success, yet hardly seem debilitated today.

If Chelsea's players were understandably traumatised, the core Mourinho left behind still won another Premier League and two FA Cups in his aftermath.

Two trying campaigns at Inter Milan, where he quickly became incarnated as the enemy of Italian football, climaxed with an unprecedented treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League.

If Inter have been in the doldrums since, the more plausible alternative to Mourinho burnout theory is that the club self-immolated themselves by appointing Rafa Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini then Claudio Ranieri.

"Long-term is a big excuse for us coaches," is Mourinho's own take on the debate.

"We can build a team and win in the first season, why not? In this case, I am a short-term coach because I believe in this."

Then there is the theory that Mourinho's success is dependent on vast transfer expenditure.

Not at Leiria, a club with a 6,000-capacity stadium which he had competing with the Portugal's three grand powers.

The Champions League was delivered to Porto on a fraction of the budget of competitors and with a huge financial windfall to follow as the squad's best performers were sold around the continent. While Abramovich's resources were utilised at Chelsea, his record signing was one chosen by the owner to destructive effect on team and club - Andriy Shevchenko.

At Inter he had to fight for permission to revitalise an ageing squad chronically unsuited to the intensity of Champions League football. He moved Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Barca for €49 million (Dh235m) plus Samuel Eto'o, also signing Wesley Sneijder, Lucio, Diego Milito, Thiago Motta and Goran Pandev. All six were starters in an all-conquering side.

Even at Real, a club that reported over €480m of revenue last year, Mourinho's spending has been far sparser than is imagined. Ronaldo and Kaka were recruited a year before his appointment, the latter's physical problems proving a millstone.

Florentino Perez would not sanction the Brazilian's sale in 2010 and refused to buy a striker when Real were down to one fit forward the following January. Coentrao's €30m fee remains the highest on Mourinho's watch.

The Dark Prince offends sensibilities by calling his critics out. He annoys authority by boycotting press conferences when his assistant coach has been red carded for encouraging Ronaldo or labelling Barca "super favourites" for the Champions League after they've been awarded a decisive quarter-final penalty when the ball was not in play.

And ultimately there's the really upsetting thing about Mourinho. He keeps winning.


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