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Friday, May 28, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Porto's Mourinho paid his dues on way up coaching ladder


LONDON -- Two years ago few outside of Portugal had heard of Jose Mourinho.

Christopher Davies

Now, after leading FC Porto to the UEFA Cup and Champions League finals success in successive years, Mourinho is football's flavor of the month, a coach who found himself on the short list of many leading European clubs, though Chelsea is very likely to win the race for his very expensive signature.

Is Mourinho a coaching genius or merely fortunate that 2004 is less than a vintage year for top-class coaches?

Probably a bit of both, though Premiership followers who prefer open-attacking, inventive football should be wary -- Mourinho's methods mean that 1-0 constitutes something of a goal spree.

If success is the yardstick by which a coach is judged, then the end justifies the means. Under Mourinho, Porto has won the Portuguese League twice, the UEFA Cup and Wednesday the Champions League, when it beat AS Monaco 3-0.

Mourinho, 41, is nothing if not a quick learner.

In 1992, he took a job as a translator for Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon and 12 years on, hard work and an obsessive attention to detail have seen him become one of the brightest and most sought after new generation of coaches.

While sorry to see him leave, few in Portugal would begrudge Mourinho such a step after an almost unbelievable two-and-a-half-years during which he has re-established Porto as one of Europe's top clubs.

In his first full season, he guided it to the treble of the UEFA Cup, Portuguese League and Cup. This season Porto has again won the league title and was beaten by Benfica in the Portuguese Cup, before its Champions League triumph.

Not bad for someone with no track record as a player but who has been involved in the game since he was a teenager, preparing reports on future opponents for his father who was coach at Vitoria Setubal.

Mourinho abandoned his career as a player to study physical education in Lisbon and at the age of 24 completed a UEFA coaching course.

His break came with Robson at Sporting where he was the coach's eyes and ears, as well as his mouth. Mourinho moved on with Robson to Porto and Barcelona, promoted from translator to second assistant coach and then Robson's No. 2, impressing the former England manager.

"He's a very intelligent boy who can speak very shrewdly and cleverly about the game," said Robson when Mourinho took over at Porto in 2002.

When Robson was moved upstairs at Barcelona to make way for Louis van Gaal in 1997, Mourinho stayed on to work with the Dutchman, helping to coach players such as Luis Figo.

Mourinho's first post as head coach was in 2000 at Benfica, but it proved to be a less than auspicious start, with him walking out after a row with the president early in the season over interference.

Mourinho's new employers should be aware he is very much his own man and woe betide anyone who goes over the coach's head.

After Benfica, Mourinho went to Uniao Leiria, which he led to third place in the league, before accepting an offer to return to Porto in January 2002. He stunned Porto supporters by promising to guide the club to the title the following season.

Mourinho bought defender Nuno Valente and striker Derlei from Leiria for next to nothing and snapped up Maniche from the B team at Benfica.

He also found room in his side for a little-known Brazilian-born midfielder Deco, who had been struggling to make an impact at the club, and Porto finished the 2001-02 season in third.

The seeds had been sewn and Mourinho was true to his word, because the 2002-2003 season saw Porto move back into the European limelight with their UEFA Cup final victory over Celtic, in the wake of the domestic double.

In the era of the galactico and big money transfers, Mourinho has proved that talent, good business sense, tactical acumen and sheer force of personality can triumph over the checkbook. For that he deserves the highest praise because once the footballing honors only go to the highest bidders, the sport will lose its magic.

There are those who question Mourinho's approach, notably the ease with which Porto players fell over against Celtic and the way Deportivo La Coruna was suffocated by smothering but effective tactics in the Champions League semifinals.

But if winning is the ultimate entertainment then Mourinho is the man of the moment.

THE DAYS when an agent would take only a tenth of any deal are going by the wayside with this week's revelations by Manchester United that it has paid £13.8 million to middle men on 21 transfers worth £125 million since January 2001 -- an average of £790,000 per deal.

Pride of place goes to Gaetano Marotta who was paid £700,000 for Tim Howard's £2.3 million transfer from New York/New Jersey MetroStars -- 30.4 percent.

Exactly what an agent does to earn such massive and seemingly disproportionate fees has been a closely guarded secret.

While one accepts a player needs professional advice when changing clubs, it is strange that the agent's fees are paid by the club and not the client.

Take Louis Saha's transfer from Fulham to United in January. The French striker was desperate to join United, and there were no work permit problems, so why did United need to pay an agent £750,000 to "facilitate" the deal the player wanted so much?

Belatedly, in the wake of an internal review than unsurprisingly found nothing untoward in recent transfer dealings, United's PLC board has pledged never to do business with Jason Ferguson, son of manager Sir Alex.

Ferguson junior's agency Elite Sports represent 13 United players, and while there is no suggestion of anything illegal, it will raise eyebrows about a conflict of interests.

Jason is a close associate of Mike Morris, the Monaco-based FIFA agent who is probably not bothered by any increase in the price of petrol.

Morris, who incredibly has no personal connections with the Dutch international, was still paid £750,000 by United when Jaap Stam moved to Lazio in 2001 and United revealed that Elite also received a cut of the commission.

Marotta, it is understood, also passed on part of the Howard fee to Morris.

How? Why?

Questions no one has to answer . . .

Occasionally both the buying and selling clubs will pay agents.

There is one agency in which leading managers have shares, using it to buy or sell players -- how the authorities allow this to happen is beyond belief.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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