Any conversation that discusses the great coaches and managers has to include Jose Mourinho.
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated writes of not only where Mourinho rates among soccer coaches in the world today, but among coaches of all sports.
Where does Mourinho rank among the world's soccer coaches? "He's at the top, there's no doubt about that," says the legendary Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho's friend and rival. "You have certain criteria in terms of top management, and that is longevity of success—which is very difficult today—and what you win. You have to regard his achievements as really first-class."
Now, nine months after taking over Real Madrid, Mourinho faces his most pressure-packed test yet: to return the most decorated club of all time to its past glory, not just in Spain (where archrival Barcelona has won four of the last six La Liga titles) but also in Europe (where Real Madrid has not advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals since 2004). "Real Madrid wants to be again the best—of the present and of the future," says Mourinho. "That's my challenge." If he can burnish his own résumé in the process, so much the better—no coach has won European crowns with three different teams. Real meets Lyon at Madrid's Bernabéu Stadium on March 16 in the second leg of their home-and-home round of 16 series; the teams tied 1--1 at Lyon on Feb. 22.
As Mourinho has risen to the summit, he has expanded his horizons, analyzing the management styles at Microsoft and Apple, reading Colin Powell's autobiography and Phil Jackson's books, studying John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. He wants to come to the U.S., both to observe NFL coaching staffs and, eventually, to manage the U.S. national team or an MLS club. "A football coach who only understands football is not a great coach," says Mourinho. "We have to be good in other things. I never forget: My players are men. Men with different personalities, different cultures. To deal with this is very important in building a team. I think I have, maybe, a gift."
Mourinho can't help himself. He is by turns smart, vain, funny, needy, tough and as thin-skinned as a pinot grape. But who's to argue with him? He has a gift. No coach today compares. Phil Jackson may have won 11 NBA titles, but he always had the best players. Mourinho conquered the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan, teams with nowhere near the talent and payrolls of their top rivals. Joe Torre and Mike Krzyzewski may have reached the pinnacle four times, but they did not have to connect with their players in five languages. Mourinho speaks Portuguese, English, French, Italian and Spanish, fluently. Bill Belichick owns three Super Bowl rings as a head coach, but even he can't match Mourinho's most remarkable record: He has gone nine years without losing a league game at home, 148 matches with four different teams.
Nor do any American coaches face the crushing weekly pressure of European soccer, the only game that matters on the Continent. In the political tinderbox of Real Madrid, where a single defeat can spark a crisis, Mourinho might not even survive the season. But there is a reason his $12 million annual salary is the highest of any coach on the planet. He's the best in the world.