By Pete Sanderson
As FC Porto's tenure as UEFA Cup holders draws to a close, coach José Mourinho is anxious to cling on to some silverware.
So anxious, in fact, that when UEFA officials came to collect the UEFA Cup trophy, he asked them if he could keep hold of it "for a few more weeks" until it found a more "suitable home". The suitable home which Mourinho had in mind, was the mantlepiece of his great friend Sir Bobby Robson, who is now the coach of UEFA Cup quarter-finalists Newcastle United FC.
"I can't think of a better home for the trophy than St James' Park," Mourinho told uefa.com, after guiding Porto into the last four of the UEFA Champions League. "Winning the UEFA Cup was the greatest moment of my career. I wanted to keep it and hand it over personally to Mr Robson - but if Newcastle win it, he will have to accept it from someone else."
Robson has been something of a mentor to Mourinho. Originally employed as his translator, Robson was so impressed with Mourinho's knowledge of the game that he employed him as his assistant at FC Barcelona. Since then he has emerged as one of the finest young coaches in Europe - and the two have remained great friends.
"We speak to each other before big games, giving each other advice and wishing each other good luck," said Mourinho, who has been linked with a host of top clubs, including Liverpool FC, after guiding his Porto side to a four-point lead at the top of the Portuguese league, with only one defeat in 28 games. "Mr Robson has been closely monitoring our Champions League run and, if we both make our respective finals, we will be there to support each other."
If Porto are to make their second successive major European final, they must first find their way past RC Deportivo La Coruña, conquerors of AC Milan. However, if they were looking for good omens, Porto should look no further than UEFA EURO 2004™. With Portugal hosting the finals tournament, what could be more appropriate than a Portuguese side reaching the Champions League final?
Mourinho has certainly risen to that sense of occasion. "It is such an important year for Portuguese football with EURO 2004™ on the horizon and it would be fantastic for us to kickstart the summer of football with success in the Champions League," he said. "To be one of the final few teams in the competition is a real honour."
Whatever the result, the coach certainly believes that his team have done their country proud. "I think our success in Europe has been a wonderful reflection on Portuguese football," he said. "Since the Bosman law was enforced it has been even harder for the smaller countries like Portugal to compete so we should be proud of ourselves."
So, what does Mourinho believe is the secret to Porto's success? "The secret is two years of hard work with the same players and the same coaching staff,” he said. “We work closely together.
We have a tactical philosophy which we follow so religiously that, at times, I think we could play blindfolded. Ok we don't have the top stars of Real Madrid [CF] or AC Milan but what we lack in big names, we make up for with our team spirit and organisation."
With Porto on a high, the trophy cabinet could yet be full again come June.
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