Some would call it ironic, others might say it’s entirely deserved. But on the 11th anniversary of sealing a historic Treble with Inter Milan, his greatest career achievement, Jose Mourinho knows that his stock has plunged to an all-time low.
There is no disguising the pain he must have felt when Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy brutally wielded the axe just six days before Spurs were due at Wembley for the Carabao Cup final, ending his 17-month reign in north London.
He replaced Mauricio Pochettino with a promise of success, which made his seemingly premature departure all the more confusing. For the first time in his career, he was denied the opportunity to win a trophy.
But after his exit, Mourinho has batted away the temptation to wallow and take a sabbatical from football. Instead, the 57-year-old has hauled himself back up onto the managerial saddle, if you will.
Now, a fresh start with Roma beckons, with the Portuguese due to succeed his compatriot Paulo Fonseca in the summer and with it, seal a romantic return to Serie A.
He remains an iconic figure in Italy. When Mourinho agreed to take over Inter Milan in June 2008, there was an understandable sense of anticipation.
The prospect of ‘The Special One’ opening the next chapter in his managerial career in Serie A was an exciting one, and it would go some way to repairing Italy’s reputation in the eyes of the world after the Calciopoli scandal.
The Portuguese had been unceremoniously sacked by Chelsea just nine months before, having guided the west London side to two league titles. But that achievement, coupled with stunning Champions League triumph with Porto in 2004, would still put Mourinho amongst the best coaches in the world.
The Nerazzurri had already clinched three back-to-back Serie A titles and under Mourinho, they would extend that run to five. But the 2009/10 campaign was different, and will remain a special memory for every Inter fan for the rest of their days.
As champions, they had built a phenomenal squad, with talent overflowing in all areas. Julio Cesar, Walter Samuel, Wesley Sneijder, Dejan Stankovic, Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o were just some of the players at Mourinho’s disposal. They were fighters and that perfectly aligned with his philosophy.
But it would still take a monumental effort to overthrow Barcelona, who were at the height of their powers under Pep Guardiola. How does one stop Lionel Messi, David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Xavi?
Still, this was Mourinho, the man who knew how to win games. It wasn’t easy on the eye by any means, with sustained periods of defending, time-wasting and execution of the ‘dark arts’, but it painted a picture of togetherness and a collective resilience.
This ultimately proved the difference when the two sides met in the semi-finals in April 2010, as Inter refused to back down when Barca repeatedly threatened to knock the door down and progressed to the final 2-1 on aggregate.
The way Inter dismantled Bayern Munich in the final was devastating. Every man knew their task and stuck to it, with the Italian side nullifying the wingman double act of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Milito proved why he was widely recognised as the most deadly marksman in Europe at the time, bagging both goals at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Having already secured the Serie A title and Coppa Italia, Mourinho would celebrate his first and only Treble. But his sights were already set on the next part of his journey and he jumped at the chance to take the vacancy at Real Madrid.
His exit was incredibly emotional, not just for Mourinho but the players too — Marco Materrazzi was famously seen embracing his departing boss while holding back tears. To them, it felt like the end of an era — and it was.
The opportunity to get Real back to the top of Spanish football, whilst taking on Guardiola and managing world-class stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos… it was simply too good to turn down.
More success followed when in 2011/12, Mourinho brought LaLiga back to the Spanish capital with a record points haul, becoming only the fifth manager to win domestic titles in four different countries.
Yet it didn’t take long for his reign to turn sour. Iker Casillas was dropped in favour of Diego Lopez, while Gonzalo Higuain was left out in favour of the less prolific Karim Benzema.
Ultimately, these power plays from Mourinho contributed to a toxic atmosphere at the club and his hostile relationship with the Spanish media. When his contract expired in 2013, he went back to Chelsea.
“I know in England I am loved,” he said after Real’s Champions League exit to Borussia Dortmund in April. “I know I am loved by some clubs, especially one.”
In his eight years in England from 2013, Mourinho would win the Premier League and EFL Cup with Chelsea in 2014/15, as well as the Europa League and EFL Cup as Man United boss in 2016/17.
It would also represent some of the worst moments of his career. That he was sacked just seven months after leading Chelsea to their third title together, with the club hovering dangerously above the relegation zone in 16th place, will forever tarnish his illustrious career.
Likewise, Man United’s eventual demise — from second in his first season to sixth when he was sacked in December 2018 — reinforced the idea that his footballing ideals were no longer fit for the modern game.
Spurs fans were left unimpressed with Mourinho’s defensive tactics, especially when it contributed to adverse results. But there was still some hope he could end their 13-year trophy drought. Levy’s decision, right or wrong, means we will never know.
Now, he moves onto Roma where the task is more simple and less demanding, with the club seventh in Serie A.
Mourinho is very rarely a man to detract from his usual methods, but with director of football Tiago Pinto taking a hands-on approach to transfers, he will need to work with his fellow countryman to make a success of his time at the Stadio Olimpico.
If he can find greatness again at Roma, or even put them back in contention for the league title, then perhaps he would regain that air of superiority that made Mourinho “special”, as he aptly put it.