Flashback to 9 March 2004, when my eight-year-old self first saw José Mourinho in action. It was his sprint down the Old Trafford touchline as his Porto side emerged victorious against Manchester United which made it clear that this was no ordinary manager.
I wanted to see more of him at work, so to see him join my beloved Chelsea on 2 June 2004 was the stuff of dreams. This was a charismatic manager who had just masterminded Porto’s Champions League triumph. It could not have been better.
“Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.”
Look at that mentality, that statement of intent. This was a man ready to take over the world, and he wanted to do so at Stamford Bridge.
Jose Mourinho with former chief executive Peter Kenyon.
Bankrolled by Roman Abramovich’s millions, Mourinho wasted little time in bringing in Paulo Ferreira, Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and the criminally-underrated Tiago to finish what Claudio Ranieiri had started – building one of the strongest teams on the planet.
Frank Lampard, John Terry, Joe Cole, Claude Makélélé, William Gallas and Damien Duff were already there. Petr Čech had just completed his pre-agreed move to the Bridge. This squad looked like a real force to be reckoned with.
With a 1-0 win over an admittedly weak Manchester United side to kick off the season, Chelsea and Mourinho made it clear that they weren’t here to mess about this year. They wanted silverware. We wanted silverware.
Didier Drogba, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Alexey Smertin celebrate.
Mixing between a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond and a 4-3-3, Mourinho’s reputation as a master tactician began to grow. Whoever the opponent, the boss had a plan. He was ready to counter any threat, whether that be by changing formation or personnel.
A 1-0 loss to Manchester City in October was a disappointment but was not seen as much of a problem. Apart from Arsenal‘s Invincibles, every team loses games. However, the fact that this was the team’s only loss of the campaign quickly made it more frustrating as time went by. We almost wanted to lose again just to make it less annoying.
The Blues bounced back with a 4-0 win over Blackburn Rovers next time out, and that was all she wrote. Chelsea didn’t lose another game that year, conceded just 15 goals and lifted the Premier League title in emphatic fashion.
Chelsea’s open-top bus celebration after winning the 2004/05 Premier League.
The only downside to the season was elimination in the Champions League semi-final at the hands of Liverpool and Luis García’s ghost goal, but once that sense of injustice had died down (and honestly, I’m still not fully over it), the focus was on domestic glory.
The man who had promised me greatness and success just one year earlier had delivered. He truly was a special one.
Next season, Mourinho made his midfield even stronger, adding the beast that was Michael Essien in a £24.4m deal from Lyon. Nine wins from their opening nine games showed that Chelsea were better than ever before.
There were more defeats that year, but we didn’t care. Chelsea were indisputably the best team in England, and a second consecutive Premier League title only reinforced our point.
And then 30 May 2006 arrived. Or, more specifically, £30m-rated Andriy Shevchenko rocked up to the Bridge. And it all went downhill.
The 2006/07 campaign brought FA Cup and League Cup success, but dropping down to second in the league wasn’t good enough. Something didn’t feel right. The team didn’t feel right. Mourinho didn’t feel right.
We would later learn that Shevchenko’s arrival essentially drove a wedge between Mourinho and Abramovich, and that unrest bled into the rest of the squad. Nobody really wanted to be there in the 2007/08 season, and the underwhelming performances saw Mourinho sacked in September that year.
Chelsea v Blackburn Rovers
Since that departure, or rather his second exit from the Bridge eight years later, the opinion of Mourinho has soured somewhat. He might not be the most popular man at the club, but there’s no doubting his status as the best manager in Chelsea history.
Apart from Abramovich and his cheque book, Mourinho was the man who gave Chelsea the reputation they have today. The Blues are one of the biggest clubs around, and we owe that to Mourinho.