Attitude adjustment

Portugal's most successful export is certainly admired at home for his achievements and wealth – but his compatriots don't exactly like José Mourinho, reports Phil Town

In the last two years, José Mourinho has been to Portuguese football what Manderley was to the heroine in Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca and Hitchcock’s film: absent but omnipresent. At his old club FC Porto, various coaches have tried and failed to measure up to the historic yardstick set by Mourinho during his spell there, whether in material terms (back-to-back championships, a Portuguese Cup, a UEFA Cup and a Champions League title in two seasons) or in terms of style. Coach Co Adriaanse has just won the championship with Porto, but the team was widely seen as barely the best of a poor bunch vying for the title. And, however honourable the man might be, his appeal factor struggles to rise above the dishwater-dull when held up against Mourinho’s charisma, still hovering ghost-like above the Estádio do Dragão.

Both on and off the field, the Dutchman cannot escape comparisons with his Portuguese predecessor. His team has struggled to take his tactics on board, his presence in front of the cameras is anything but comfortable and, during a particularly rocky period for Porto and Adriaanse this season, his car was stoned, with him in it, after a poor display and result at Rio Ave. The incident, reportedly the work of members of the Porto ultras, claque Superdragões, immediately called to mind Mourinho’s inevitably more dramatic run-in with the same claque before the Champions League final against Monaco in Gelsenkirchen.

The leader of the claque, Hélder Mota, allegedly threatened to shoot Mourinho and later spat in his face in London; he claimed that Mourinho had been sending secret text messages to his girlfriend (which she later denied). Mourinho has brought an action against Mota that will go to court in Lisbon in June.

On a wider scale, and as the country slides inexorably down the economic tubes, Portugal, a net exporter of human resources, has taken “the Special One” to its heart as a shining example of what is possible with a bit of skill and nous. His earnings are held up as a holy grail for emigrant endeavour: you could practically hear the hands being rubbed together when France Football ran its list of the world’s best-paid footballing folk and there was Mourinho topping the coach category with a mouth-watering €11 million (£7.5m) in 2005.

The man has found his way on to other lists: he was voted the world’s sixth sexiest man by New Woman magazine (with Claudia Schiffer and Elton John on the jury) and the second best-dressed man in Britain (after Clive Owen), distinctions gleefully reported by the Portuguese press to a society thirsty for inspirational figures. Along with Cristiano Ronaldo, he is currently at the top of the most-wanted list of Portuguese celebrities for marketing purposes: among others, he has lent his name to a “Take your Holidays in Portugal” campaign for the national tourist board (with Fado singer Mariza), the Portuguese bank BPI, American Express, Adidas and wine corks (Portugal is the world’s largest producer of cork).

The Portuguese were also amused to discover that Mourinho was now at Madame Tussauds and that his life might be made into a film, with George Clooney to play the lead. But all of this is not to say that Mourinho is necessarily liked very much. There is, naturally, admiration for his feats, domestically and in England, but warm and fluffy affection is quite conspicuous by its absence. A lot has to do with Mourinho’s never-less-than controversial passage through Portuguese football. His outspoken and confrontational style made him few friends outside FC Porto, especially with a sports press focused predominantly on the south and the fortunes of Benfica and Sporting.

When he left for England, the distance allowed animosity towards him to diminish, admiration for him as a Portuguese success story to grow. But the dislike of his way of being is growing. The Portuguese understand that a lot of his bluster is tactical and have often delighted in it, but it has become rather wearing to watch it brought into play week after week (all of Chelsea’s games are shown live). It was extremely difficult, for example, to swallow his crass reaction to Barcelona’s demolition of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and various Portuguese commentators and columnists laid into him for it.

And there were a lot of nodding heads when the Portuguese press published the open letter to Mourinho from Bobby Robson, much respected in Portugal for his service to Sporting and FC Porto: “What worries me, José, is that you have the potential to become one of the most popular and successful coaches the world has ever known, but this legacy is at risk because of a seemingly endless series of controversial incidents.”

Mourinho has said that he would like to be Portugal’s coach in a dozen years’ time. Portugal will welcome him back for his talent, while hoping that he will have lost a bit of the attitude.

From WSC 232 June 2006. What was happening this month