Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho owes his career to the Europa League, and the 2003 UEFA Cup final when Porto conquered Celtic in one of European football’s most memorable matches. Desmond Kane remembers being in Seville when Jose Mourinho truly became the ‘Special One’.
He has always been dressed for success in the world game’s steamiest outposts, but never more so than at the Estadio Olimpico in sweltering Andalusia back in the noughties.
Light blue tie, white shirt, grey suit to match the silver flecks bore into his bonce and a pair of Oporto’s finest slip ons added a dash of elan to a fraught evening. There is nothing like looking the part. Or playing it.
Jose Mourinho was a charming man long before he worked in Morrissey’s home city. In sultry Seville on May 21, 2003, Mourinho was in his element in 30 degree evening heat that felt like playing football under an element.
It is fair to say the Portuguese martinet has been more handsome than some of the sides he has ran in 23 years as one of the world game’s most elite coaches. His Porto team were no different, a potent paradox: masters of startling, sexy football in one breath, harbingers of horrid, unappetising gamesmanship in the next.
When Mourinho’s side managed to outlast Martin O’Neill’s Celtic, a Glasgow team as tough as teak with an appetite for the heat of battle, 3-2 after extra-time in a ferocious final. he did more than win a football match: he was a leading protagonist in a cultural phenomenon that no European final could not touch then, and has not replicated since.
Manchester United’s trip to face Ajax for the Europa League final in Stockholm will not measure up to Seville even if Zlatan Ibrahimovic scores a hat-trick. Memories are made of this.
Mourinho won the final that Celtic made. As the BBC commentator Barry Davies said on the night as over 80,000 good-natured Celtic fans, some buoyant on Buckfast and bonhomie, overwhelmed the Porto fans making the short journey across the border. Yet there was no arrests, merely friendly exchanges of scarves and songs in their hearts. Celtic’s consolation was UEFA and FIFA awards for their support’s conduct.
“I’ve seen a few of these finals, European finals, I think something over 25 now. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen support like this, provided by the supporters of Celtic,” said Davies.
UEFA’s security expected around 4,000 fans to travel from Scotland for a match staged on a working Wednesday. Celtic brought 80,000 in what was the largest travelling support for a major European final. No team from Portugal or Scotland had won the UEFA Cup before Seville, but Celtic’s hopes of adding the UEFA Cup to their European Cup success of 1967 saw one percent of the world’s air traffic head for Seville on the morning of the match.
The locals lappied it all up especially Real Betis fans seeing their city turn green.
Mourinho mocked the Europa League when he became Chelsea manager for a second time in 2013. It was an odd brickbat to throw at the tournament a decade as Seville did as much for Mourinho’s career as Roman Abramovich.
In such a respect, his dismissal of the Europa League’s credibility was a bit like trashing your own house after knocking back the Sagres. One suspects it was more a barb aimed at Rafael Benitez, who had departed Stamford Bridge a month earlier clasping the trophy he had previously housed proudly in Valencia.
But still. Mourinho would never have been special without the old UEFA Cup. Or the Europa League as it was rebranded for enlargement purposes in 2010.
He won the Champions League when Porto downed Monaco 3-0 in 2004 and led Inter Milan to the promised land with a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich in 2010. He has lifted multiple national titles and cups with Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid.
But Seville was vital to the unfolding of the narrative that contributes to the Mourinho legend. He struck greater gold than his medal that night.
“I keep saying that was the most emotional final of my career, because even the Champions League finals (of 2004 and 2010) were much more under control, the result was always under control. This one was 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, extra time, 3-2; it was a really emotional night for us.”
Who knows what would have happened to Mourinho if Celtic had unearthed the winner in Seville? Derlei scored twice for Porto that night. The opening goal before half-time and the winner late in extra-time after Bobo Balde had been red carded for walloping Porto’s Brazilian forward with a mistimed challenge.
Larsson struck twice for Celtic with two headers, twice restoring parity at 1-1 and 2-2 after Dmitri Alenichev had stroked Porto 2-1 clear in the second half.
If you are asked to remember your favourite Mourinho moments, some will recall him rampaging down a touchline at Old Trafford on his way to winning the Champions League in 2004, his first press conference at Chelsea when he declared himself the ‘Special One’ or visiting the Camp Nou as Inter coach in 2010 when his side who did not so much park the bus against Barcelona than board up the goal with planks of wood and barbed wire.
Others will recall his Real Madrid years in prodding a finger in the eye of the Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova during one heated exchange of views at the Clasico in 2011.
Yet seven years before he was a regular visitor to Seville, came the night that made him a wanted man.
He planted a flag in the psyche of the continental game that he was more an urbane individual with a winning mentality. He also made himself a clear and visible target for the very largest concerns in Europe that would persuade Chelsea to appoint him their manager two years later, and later coveted by Inter, Madrid and United.
Mourinho emerged from the night as a reliable leader of men as he managed to find enough technical fire to douse an animated Glasgow team that included the former Barcelona striker Larsson as its totem supported by a sturdy cast including Paul Lambert, Stilian Petrov, Chris Sutton and Johan Mjallby.
The ingredients that gave Porto victory over Celtic have been hallmark of his career, namely the ability to win against the odds, to win by defending with purpose and to win by fraternising with the dark arts that many find unappealing. Losing is for losers, and Porto weren’t for finishing second.
Vítor Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Maniche and Derlei. Nine of the team that started in Seville started in the 3-0 win over Monaco in the Champions League final a year later.
There were no ends to which Mourinho would not stretch in Seville. Porto were technically superior to Celtic, they were 27 weeks unbeaten before the final, but it was the manner of their play that left a sour taste in the mouth as they took forever between their goals to return to the pitch and play acted like a night at the Old Vic.
One recalls seeing Mourinho whizz out of the stadium the day before the match. He stopped off to chat to a group of media sorts who had missed the press conference. He looked like an assured figure who felt Porto had Celtic’s number, before being thrown into a tumble drier of chance.
“Every time I see Martin O’Neill I remember I was the lucky one that day.”
Porto were worthy winners of the UEFA Cup, but their behaviour was not worthy of the name. Not that he cares much for the aesthetics of the sport. It is a familiar tale of Mourinho’s success where the ends justifies the means. Winning on the edge is still winning.
“The Champions League is the Champions League, it means much more than UEFA Cup and probably winning it was the best day of my football career. But as a football game I must say that Celtic-Porto in Seville was the most exciting football game I have ever been in. An unbelievable game. ”
And suddenly he goes back to the future in Stockholm where one match could change his future. A win would endorse his standing as United manager having limped home in sixth place in the Premier League, lower than the much-maligned Louis van Gaal’s best of fourth and fifth.
Winning the Europa League would bring back Champions League football to Old Trafford, and banish the memories of his calamitous end of days at Chelsea. It would also quell the dissent that suggests he remains overly cautious in trying to meld a stylish unit that has seen £89m midfielder Paul Pogba, the word’s costliest purchase, largely deployed in a wasteful holding role.
Life began for Mourinho at 40 in Seville, but life chances are settled on more poignant moments. Is this a little bit of history repeating itself?
The trophy that made Mourinho special could yet save him.
For a better society