Jose Mourinho was invited to become Liverpool manager in 2015, shortly before the task of bringing the Premier League trophy to Anfield for the first time was handed to Jurgen Klopp.
According to sources close to Mourinho, the approach from Liverpool’s owners arrived during the final weeks of his second spell as Chelsea manager. Sensing that Roman Abramovich was about to dismiss the man who had led the London club to three Premier League titles across his five full campaigns there, Fenway Sports Group offered Mourinho the opportunity to take charge at Anfield instead.
Mourinho declined the invite, preferring to remain at Stamford Bridge in the belief that he would be supported in his efforts to remedy Chelsea’s poor early-season results. Liverpool then went through with a plan to dismiss Brendan Rodgers, appointing the out-of-work Klopp as their new manager instead.
Two years into his Liverpool tenure, question-marks remain over whether Klopp can deliver on the German’s introductory press conference prediction that “I know when I’m sat here in four years I think we won one title in this time”. His American employers were not the first owners of Liverpool to offer Mourinho the opportunity to end the club’s long English title drought.
In 2004, as Mourinho evolved his UEFA Cup winning FC Porto side into unexpected Champions League winners, Liverpool first approached the Portuguese coach. A meeting was arranged ahead of Porto’s round-of-16 defeat of Manchester United to explore his interest in succeeding Gerard Houllier.
As his Porto side continued their progression towards back-to-back Portuguese and European titles, Mourinho publicly expressed his interest in making Liverpool his first managerial position outside his native country. Abramovich – not yet a year into his ownership of Chelsea and under pressure to retain the publicly popular Claudio Ranieri as manager – moved quickly, however, to secure Mourinho’s signature ahead of his one of his principal domestic rivals.
Though Mourinho was not contracted to an agent at the time, he had made it clear that he was willing to listen to any proposals brought to him for the following season. Jorge Baidek, a Brazilian intermediary Mourinho had worked with previously, was mandated by Liverpool to secure the Porto coach’s signature. Jorge Mendes, still establishing his reputation as an agent outside Portugal, proposed Mourinho to Chelsea.
The combination of Mendes’ football acumen and Abramovich’s willingness to do everything required to secure the best available managerial talent switched Mourinho’s preference from Liverpool to London. “Abramovich was fast and moved,” a close friend told Yahoo Sport. “And Mendes was more clever than Baidek.”
As expected, Liverpool also changed managers that summer, eventually dismissing Houllier and appointing Valencia’s UEFA Cup winning coach Rafael Benitez in his place. Then-chief executive Rick Parry’s version of events was that Mourinho’s famous post-victory celebration at Old Trafford affected Liverpool’s thinking about the coach. “One of our core values was respect,” explained Parry several years later. “Seeing Mourinho celebrate like that reinforced my initial belief. ‘Was he really a Liverpool manager? Did he characterise the club’s values?’”
Mourinho’s success at Chelsea, his head-to-head rivalry with Benitez, and his pivotal role in preventing the Liverpool team of Rodgers and Luis Suarez taking the 2013-14 Premier League title have established him as Kop enemy number one. In an October 2014 interview with Gary Neville, Mourinho explained his motivation ahead of Chelsea’s pivotal April 2-0 victory at Anfield with a markedly weakened squad.
“I felt during part of last season that the country wanted Liverpool to be champion,” Mourinho said. “The media, the press: a lot was to put Liverpool there. Nobody was saying they were in a privileged situation because they didn’t play Champions League. Nobody was speaking about a lot, a lot of decisions that helped them win important and crucial points. And I felt that day was a day that was ready for their celebration.
“I used the word with my players. I said – we are going to be the clowns, they want us to be the clowns in the circus. The circus is here: Liverpool are to be champions.”
Mourinho’s win – a characteristically comprehensive tactical excision of his opponent – was a precursor to Rodgers’ sacking by FSG. His refusal to replace the Northern Irishman led the American investment group to appoint Klopp, leaving Mourinho to focus his energies on securing the Manchester United job when Abramovich dismissed him a few weeks later.
Ironically, Klopp’s own preferred venue for his first Premier League job would have been Old Trafford, according to the German’s mentor and predecessor as Mainz coach, Eckhard Krautzun. “It would be his dream to go to England one day and his favourite club would be United. That’s what he said,” said Krautzun in an interview with The Set Pieces this week.
He recommended Klopp to Sir Alex Ferguson when the Scot was sounding out his own potential successors ahead of his 2013 retirement. “I said, ‘Jurgen Klopp, if he goes abroad, if he goes to England, his love would be Manchester United,’ added Krautzun.
Ferguson offered that job to Mourinho, who ultimately chose to return to Chelsea instead. Klopp remained at Borussia Dortmund, where his run of two Bundesliga titles was about to come to an end. Two campaigns later he quit German football, took a five-month sabbatical, then signed for Liverpool, where he remains without trophy.