By Paul Saffer
Alongside the stars of the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League, whether Fernando Morientes, Frank Lampard or Walter Pandiani, is a man who has not kicked a ball in anger this season.
José Mourinho was little known outside Iberia 18 months ago, but Sir Bobby Robson's former translator is now one of the most sought-after coaches on the continent. Since taking over at FC Porto in January 2002, Mourinho's reign has a been a raging success. Immediate European qualification was followed last season by the Portuguese double and UEFA Cup. This time around, Porto have retained their title and reached Wednesday's Champions League final.
Old Trafford triumph
The moment Mourinho realised that Europe's premier club prize was within reach was on 9 March. Trailing Manchester United FC on away goals at Old Trafford in the second leg of their first knockout-round tie, Costinha pounced on a loose ball in the area to shoot Porto into the last eight (3-2 on aggregate).
"When we won in Manchester, we started thinking that since we'd made it to the last eight, we could make it to the last four, and from there we could get to the final," the 41-year-old said. "Now we are in the final we might win it, but at the start of the competition our aim was merely to get to the second stage."
'No secret formula'
So how has a side made up largely of homegrown players succeeded in a competition where the likes of Real Madrid CF, AC Milan and Chelsea FC have stumbled this season? "There is no secret formula," Mourinho insisted. "
We simply have a good team with a very good group of players who have been working and growing together for the last couple of years."
Mourinho's personal rise has also been impressive. Never a top-level player, he worked with Sir Bobby at Sporting Clube de Portugal, Porto and FC Barcelona, and after an unsuccessful spell at SL Benfica, first found individual coaching success with UD Leiria. It was from there that Porto turned to him to revive their flagging fortunes.
Now Porto meet AS Monaco FC, another team to have upset the odds under a young coach, Didier Deschamps. Mourinho says the two clubs have much in common. "You can see that there is a strong similarity between us two coaches and our teams," he said. "Both clubs have great players, but they all play together as a team, which is so important."
'Promises come true'
The Portuguese coach certainly has a bond with his players, as striker Benni McCarthy told uefa.com: "We have learned that if you trust José Mourinho and do what he asks then what he promises comes true." And there will be no recriminations if Porto fall at the last.
"It is not fair to put any team under pressure, our players will not be worse or better if they win or lose this final," Mourinho said. "But, of course, we understand that this match represents a lot for us and our country."
He added: "
I can think of few things that would give me more pleasure than winning the Champions League. Apart from important family occasions which give you great happiness such as weddings and the birth of your children, I think victory in the Champions League would rank as one of the key moments in all our lives. And I speak for myself, my squad and all Porto fans. It could be a joyous moment."
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