Evansville Courier Press, May 30, 2010
When Jose Mourinho arrived at his first news conference as the manager of Chelsea FC years ago, he described himself as "the Special One."
After his Inter Milan team beat Bayern Munich the UEFA Champions League final, Mourinho firmly placed himself on the Mount Rushmore of great coaches in sport today, proving that he is in fact "special."
He has won league titles in three different nations — Portugal (Porto FC), England (Chelsea FC) and Italy (Inter Milan) — and is one of only three men to have won Champions League titles with two different clubs.
His bravado and arrogance make him hard to root for at times, but if you can look past his ego, he provides lessons in coaching and management that any leader can draw from.
There are coaches who have a very rigid system of play, which requires players to change their own styles to fit the mold. The adage was that the only person who was able to hold Michael Jordan to under 20 points was Dean Smith, his coach at North Carolina.
A unique trait of a leader who understands the art of coaching is to create a system that highlights the strengths of key personnel and create an environment where players can flourish. What makes Mourinho a great tactician is that he assesses the squad and outlines a formation and style of play that suits the players at his disposal.
At both Porto and Chelsea, Mourinho had flexible alignments that allowed his team to morph into either a dynamic attacking unit or stingy defensive unit, depending on the opposition. Mourinho tended to play a 4-3-3 system with width and pace in the attack in both of those settings, and dropped back into a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 when looking to close the door on his opposition.
When Mourinho arrived in England from Porto, he was labeled as a "4-4-2 coach" playing 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards who sat back and defended. That was dismissed when his Chelsea team had taken the English Premier League title while playing a different alignment and leading the EPL in goals scored.
Inter Milan had taken different shapes as well, and morphed into a midfield that allowed playmaker Wesley Sneidjer the room to create scoring chances. Milan had used four players in a midfield diamond, as well as a 3-man alignment in both a 4-3-3 and 4-5-1. The myth of "sitting back and defending" was dispelled as Milan scored more goals than any other side in Serie A, averaging just under two a game.
Mourinho is regarded as one of the most organized coaches in the modern game. He prides himself in knowing every detail about his opposition, and preparing his players for every option that opponents present in attack, defense and set pieces. Mourinho's teams seem to know more about the opposition than they know about themselves.
European football expert Graham Hunter says: "He is completely calculated, very scientific and very deliberate about everything he does. He is utterly thorough in his analysis, preparation and thinking ahead of a game."
Mourinho's teams are always very fit, and he is one of the foremost figures in the modern game when it comes to soccer-specific fitness. Rather than having a lot of sessions designed specifically to conditioning, he understands how to manipulate variables in a training session that allow his team to get fitness accomplished in functional training.
Mourinho is the ultimate believer in earning the right to play soccer — if his players do the work to win the ball on defense, they will earn the opportunity to play creatively in attack.
Because of his attention to detail in his preparations, coupled with his tremendous man-management and communication skills, Mourinho's players are always willing to go the extra mile for him.
You don't have to be a fan of Inter Milan to appreciate the aspects of what makes Jose Mourinho special.