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Darth Mou: Jose Mourinho and the dark arts of spoiling the party

January 10, 2020

IT'S May 2003 and Jose Mourinho’s Porto have just beaten Martin O’Neill’s Celtic 3-2 in the Uefa Cup final. Unless you are a committed continental superfan this is the point Jose Mourinho becomes known to most football fans in Britain.

Porto have used every trick in the big book of footballing tricks to land the trophy, and O’Neill is rattled. Mourinho, though, is not. “I'd prefer to ask whether the behaviour of the Celtic players was normal in your country," he counters when asked about his players’ antics. "What Balde did to Deco in front of me could have ended his career.” Deco was fine. Mourinho was more than fine, adding the Champions League with Porto 12 months later and then sweeping into the Premier League a few weeks later as the new Chelsea manager.

The trophies kept arriving for Mourinho but his true love, like the LAPD, is setting up extravagant roadblocks for illustrious opponents. And with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool making their first visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, with a league record that makes even Mourinho’s Chelsea of the mid-2000s look pedestrian, Mourinho will relish trying to become the first team to beat the Reds in the league for more than a year. Whether he can or not remains to be seen but he has a body of work to fall back on. Here are some of the highlights, all of which take place in April, the cruellest month and the one in which Mourinho flourishes most.

Chelsea 4-2 Bayern, April 6 2005

It’s relatively hard to unearth pure Machiavellian antics from Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea as his team were dominant for so much of it, but the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern in 2005 remains a the game’s leading masterclass in directing a football match while hidden in a laundry basket.

Serving a stadium ban, Mourinho was obviously communicating with hat-wearing assistant Rui Faria during the game, and the caged manager subtly guided his team to a win that set Chelsea on the way to the semi-finals (they would go on to lose 3-2 in Munich in the second leg). Payback would come in the next round when Liverpool’s ghost goal prevented Mourinho from winning the competition in consecutive years with different teams. Did Mourinho accept this as part of a cosmic evening out process? Absolutely not. Would he have his revenge on Liverpool Football Club? Absolutely yes.
 

Barcelona 1-0 Inter, April 28 2010

Sometimes you can lose the game but win the war, and there is probably no better example of this than Inter’s progression to the 2010 Champions League final. A 3-1 win for Inter in the first leg (aided by Barcelona having to travel to Milan by coach due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and the subsequent impact on air travel.

Can we categorically rule Mourinho’s direct influence on seismic events? Answer: no) was useful but not decisive given they were facing the greatest team of the 21st century so far. Some managers may have given thought to trying to grab an away goal at the Nou Camp, nullifying Barcelona’s strike in Italy, but not Mourinho. Especially Mourinho after Thiago Motta was sent off in the 28th minute. Inter made 116 passes to Barcelona’s 737, one shot to their 20 and Inter ended the match with a pass completion rate of 54%, lower than any team in League One and League Two have averaged this season. Pep 2-3 Mou: remember that scoreline.

 

Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea, April 27 2014

Almost exactly four years after his Nou Camp masterclass, Mourinho was at his destructive best again, this time at Anfield. Liverpool had shattered his European dreams here in 2005 (and again, on penalties, in 2007) and, somehow, under Brendan Rodgers, had freewheeled their way into pole position in the 2013-14 title race, with Manchester City and Chelsea second and third favourites respectively.

Liverpool went into this match on an 11-game winning run based on blitzing their opponents with various combinations of Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, and Rodgers ordered more of the same for Chelsea’s visit. Big mistake. Steven Gerrard’s slip was the headline error, and set Chelsea on their way, but the home team’s entire approach was littered with them. Rodgers complained afterwards about Chelsea playing “a back six”, and that they had “parked two buses”, but this was Jose Mourinho, half-bearded and wild-haired, but still Jose Mourinho. 12 months later he had won the Premier League again. Liverpool are still waiting.

 

Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United, April 7, 2018

If there’s a reason that Mourinho will fail to stop Jurgen Klopp on Saturday it is because he is not the manager he once was. The game in the 2020s is not the game of the 2000s and Klopp and Pep Guardiola are considerably ahead of the Tottenham boss. But if there’s a reason that Mourinho will succeed in putting a spanner in Liverpool’s shins it’s that even now, as deft opponents shimmer around his sides, he can still spoil a party like no-one else.

Exhibit A: Manchester United’s comeback win at Manchester City in 2018. It delayed Guardiola’s team lifting the title by precisely eight days, and City ending the season on 103 points would have been less aesthetically pleasing than 100 anyway, but to come from two goals down against the team engaged in the greatest singular seasonal performance in Premier League history still took some doing. Alexis Sanchez even assisted two of the goals. “My objective here was to get points and not spoil any celebrations,” Mourinho said after the game. Of course, Jose. There’s no reason not to believe that. None at all. Pep 2-3 Mou, the story is old, I know, but it goes on.