Manchester United 1 (Scholes ’31) Porto 1 (Costinha ’90).
March 9th 2004, Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho is the upstart who thumbed his nose at the establishment. It is the persona with which he is most comfortable. It was present amid the myriad self-justifications of the 12-minute monologue he launched after Manchester United exited this season’s Champions League at the hands of Sevilla. “When I was 20, I was nobody in football, I was somebody’s son, with a lot of pride,” he said. “And now with 55 I am what I am I did what I did because of work and because of talent and my mentality.”
Being the son of Felix Mourinho, a journeyman manager of ten different Portuguese professional clubs, certainly opened some doors, as did the leg-up he got up through translating for Sir Bobby Robson, but Mourinho thrives on his outsider status, shooting from the fringes. Even now, as manager of British football’s biggest club, with the richest revenue streams in world football, he kicks against the pricks.
Defiance defines him, especially during the moments that follow his greatest successes. Telling Liverpool fans to keep their chins up after Chelsea had won the League Cup final, running maniacally into the centre of the Nou Camp pitch after Inter Milan had knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League, and most notoriously, that March 2004 sprint down the Old Trafford sideline that followed Costina’s winning goal for Porto.
Far more people remember the manager’s celebration than Costinha’s goal. The hair had only a few flecks of grey, the trench-coat was of a cheaper cut than those he would make fashionable, the sprint far more athletic than he could manage now but the Mourinho mannerisms were all present.
Though he had, to use his own phrase, gained considerable “football heritage” by that point, having won the UEFA Cup with Porto the previous year as part of a treble of trophies, it was the first flush of Mourinho’s imperial period.
Knocking Manchester United out of the Champions League was a moment that brought him to full worldwide attention, and hardened the resolve of Peter Kenyon, Chelsea’s CEO, to take the best young manager in Europe to Stamford Bridge. It turned out to be a perfect marriage, a rebel club overturning the ancient regime with Roman Abramovich’s bottomless supply of petrodollar cash, and a manager delighting in taking down England’s historic powers in United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Mourinho’s abrasiveness irked plenty, and Liverpool, having been given the chance to take him on as a replacement for Gerard Houllier, plumped for Rafa Benitez, on course for a second Liga title with Valencia, as a safer bet. It was a snub that exercised Mourinho against Liverpool, a club he has barely had a kind word to say about since. Barcelona’s decision to appoint Pep Guardiola over him in 2008 would lead to similar, seething resentment.
Meanwhile, David Bellion and Kleberson sat on the bench alongside a 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, still two years from catching fire.
For Sir Alex Ferguson, the Porto defeat was little more than a tale of bad luck, with Paul Scholes having what might have been a winner ruled out for offside and Costinha’s late goal coming from Tim Howard’s pat-a-cake treatment of a non-threatening Benni McCarthy free-kick.
“I understand why Ferguson is a bit emotional,” said Mourinho, choosing words that would become ironic in the light of this week’s Sevilla defeat. “He has some top players in the world and they should be doing a lot better than that. You would be really sad if your team gets clearly dominated as that by an opponent who has been built on maybe ten per cent of the budget.”
Among football’s big beasts, memories are lengthy, grudges never quite set aside. It is noticeable that since the younger man has been working at the club that the Scot still haunts, there has been little public interaction between the pair. The pals’ act the pair performed when Mourinho was safely in Italy and Spain has not been recommissioned.
“Jose was one of those guys on a surfboard who can stay longer on the surfboard than everyone else,” Ferguson wrote in his 2013 autobiography. “I knew straight away it would be unwise to engage him in psychological conflict. I would find another way to tackle him.”
That would take time, for reasons made explicit by the team United sent out against Porto. Only Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs and Scholes would be members of the squad that lifted the Champions League in 2008, while Howard and Eric Djemba-Djemba were misfires in a disastrous transfer summer of 2003. Meanwhile, David Bellion and Kleberson sat on the bench alongside a 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, still two years from catching fire.
In the light of that, the achievement of a Porto team containing Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Deco and McCarthy does not seem quite so earth-shattering, but Mourinho cannot help but keep returning to it. “I sit in this chair twice in the Champions League and knock Manchester United out with Porto and Real Madrid,” he smirked after Sevilla.
It was the moment he acquired legitimacy and recognition. After that, a reign of defiant terror could begin.