European Football - Portugal prays for eventual Mourinho return

Jose Mourinho returned on Monday to the club where he feels loved - but if it goes wrong at Chelsea the charismatic coach will be assured of the warmest of welcomes in his native Portugal where he is a national hero.

European Football - Portugal prays for eventual Mourinho return

View photo

2003-04 Champions League Porto coach Jose Mourinho celebrates goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford

Revered at former club Porto having taken them to the peak of European football, he is widely viewed as a role model whose teachings go way beyond the sport.

"Mourinho is an icon for us, 99 percent of Portuguese like him," the head of the country's coaching association Vitor Macas told Reuters in an interview.

A street with his name, an honorary degree and requests to be the face of tourism in TV adverts are just a few clues as to how much Portugal idolises the Setubal-born Mourinho.

"The country really felt proud when he went on and spoke in Portuguese in the thank-you speech of the (2010) FIFA coach award. It was just symbolic but everyone felt it," Macas said.

The outspoken former Real Madrid and Inter Milan coach is seen as someone who projects a strong and confident image of Portugal - one that contrasts sharply with the sombre headlines about debt crisis and recession that dominate everyday life.

When ratings agency Moody's downgraded Portugal's economic outlook to junk in 2011 it too did not escape the coach's sharp tongue.

"Portugal is far from being junk," he said in an interview with national television RTP. "The situation will improve."

Used to overcoming his own adversities, Mourinho went on to give politicians a few pointers.

"I long for a society which recognises merit, where the opportunities don't just go to the elite and politicians are elected for competence not by the party machines," he said.

Macas agreed: "Sadly, football has been one of the few things that has brought us joy. But coach-wise at least, we are certainly on top of the world".

He added that Mourinho had improved the reputation of Portuguese coaches and paved the way for others to succeed, such as his former assistant and now Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas.

Having achieved massive success at some of the biggest clubs in the world, many in Portugal are hoping the new Chelsea supremo will one day follow through with his pledge to become the national coach.

"One of my goals is to give Portugal what no one has before - a World Cup or European championship title. That's one of my dreams," Mourinho said a few years ago.

"Portugal may be a small country but its football deserves something important. It's the country of historic Benfica and Champions League-winners Porto."

As a former coach of arch-rivals Porto and Benfica, his heroics mean he has managed to cut across club rivalries.

"Mourinho is undoubtedly a huge and proud part of Portuguese football. With a controversial personality, he enjoys the respect and admiration of his compatriots," said former Benfica spokesman Joao Malheiro.

The self-proclaimed 'Special One' was still working on his taste for the smart overcoats he was to display later at Chelsea when he wore a flabby red tracksuit jacket on his debut as head coach 13 years ago.

Benfica lost that match 1-0 to Boavista and although few remember that first defeat, he does.

"I remember my first match as well as the last," Mourinho said in a recent speech at Setubal to inaugurate an exhibition in honour of his 50th birthday.

Despite being seen as egotistical, the Portuguese said he often felt uneasy with the praise.

"Such homages touch me deeply and I don't like to feel I am not in control of my emotions. But being from Setubal, and with all this sympathy around, that touches me."

Setubal, just south of the Tagus, remains one of Portugal's largest fishing and industrial hubs though it has been hard-hit by the economic crisis.

Benfica and Mourinho fell out after only nine matches in what was, in hindsight, a terrible watershed moment for the Lisbon club.

Two years later he was at Porto where he won two league titles, a domestic cup, the UEFA Cup and the Champions League in two extraordinary seasons.

He said he treasured the memories of his success more than the paraphernalia at the exhibit that included his coach armbands, trophies, notepads and even one of his old overcoats.

"The heroes who put together this exhibition better brace themselves because my career is far from over," he warned.

"In a few years' time they will have a lot more to tell."

View comments (0)