By Jim Wirth & Adam Szreter
Back in the summer, José Mourinho's protracted departure from European champions FC Porto for Chelsea FC was a story so huge that it threatened to steal the back pages from UEFA EURO 2004™.
And in the short time since the Portuguese coach finally settled on Stamford Bridge as his next destination, he has rarely shifted from football's centre stage. Regarded in some quarters as an over-confident upstart, he has since proved to English sceptics that he has the footballing nous to justify his self-confidence.
After four Premiership games, the Chelsea side he has remoulded with the summer signings of Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Tiago, Mateja Kezman, Didier Drogba and Nuno Morais, have yet to drop a point and are level with champions Arsenal FC at the top of the table.
However, it is the UEFA Champions League that remains the ultimate test of a coach's mettle, and the group stage draw has set Mourinho a stern task. Along with games against Paris Saint-Germain FC and PFC CSKA Moskva, Mourinho must lead his side against his old paymasters at Porto.
A cruel twist of fate perhaps, but for Mourinho, no disaster. "In this kind of draw they are all good teams," he told uefa.com when he visited UEFA headquarters for last week's Elite Coaches Forum. "
With Porto the good thing is that I know them well - the bad thing is that they know me well, so neither of us have an advantage."
The Porto side that Mourinho led to success in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup final before seizing the Champions League crown in 2003/04 provided a rallying call to the whole nation. Their focus on Portuguese players was a reflection of their modest finances, but under Mourinho it became an accidental stroke of genius. "What we did with Porto was out of the context of [what was expected in] this country," concluded Mourinho.
Having seized silverware on a budget with a small Porto squad, Mourinho now faces the nominally easier challenge of taking the title again with the full might of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's bank account behind them. The expectations are higher, but Mourinho insists the methods are similar.
"It does not make a big difference," he said wearily. "People know the economic conditions at Chelsea and the power that Chelsea have. Because of that we have built a great squad with great players but I still go into every match with the same mentality."
In a sense, he sees the challenge of triumphing with Chelsea as being even greater than the miracle he achieved at Porto. "At Chelsea we have top players but at Porto I had the time to prepare a team to go into the Champions League," he said. "In the first season our aim was to win the UEFA Cup but at the same time we got fantastic experience."
Porto, then, were a team forged over two seasons of success. Chelsea have no such background. "At the moment Chelsea is a completely new team," said Mourinho. "The players have been with me for just a few weeks and we are going directly into big matches in the Champions League."
A daunting prospect, but one that their Premiership form suggests Chelsea are ready for. In any case, for once the outspoken coach is keeping the target for his charges relatively low. "Two teams go into the next round," he said. "We have to be one of those two teams."
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