Jose Mourinho Player
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Jose Mourinho the player – making of a mastermind

Before the ‘Special One’ there was the mediocre one. A slim, unassuming, Portuguese footballer who turned out for sides in the Portuguese second division, did his best, eeked out a non-stellar career and moved to management as quickly as he could. But what of those early days? Did Jose Mourinho the player have any influence on Jose Mourinho the manager?

José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix was born in 1963 in Setubal, near Lisbon and from an early age seemed very keen to follow in his father’s footsteps.  José Manuel Mourinho Félix known as Felix Mourinho had played as a professional footballer for 16 seasons, for sides Belenenses and Vittoria Setubal, even once for the Portuguese national team against the Republic of Ireland in 1972, before hanging up his boots in 1996 to move into an undistinguished management career. His son’s career went rather differently.

Jose Mourinho Player
Jose Mourinho with his father, Felix

As a boy, Jose travelled every week to watch his father play and later, once, he turned coach, Jose proved every bit as interested in watching his dad train the team and tag along on scouting missions. Felix describes that period best himself:

“When he was 13 or 14 I became a manager and had to travel. José would always find a way to turn up wherever I was. By coach, or even fish transport truck, he would always be with me somehow for the weekend matches. He started to manage the ball boys. He would position himself behind our bench. I’d give him instructions which he would pass on to the players, running to the other side of the pitch to tell them. So he began very early to deal with tactics and systems of play…

When he was 15 or 16 he told me he wanted to be a manager. He started to watch the teams we were going to play and prepare reports, and that helped me a lot. I remember when I was manager at Uniao de Madeira that we went to play away in Amadora. We needed at least a draw to reach the play-offs for a place in the top division of the Portuguese League.”

It was only a matter of time before young Jose would join the Belenenses youth team. In the post-Salazar Portugal, now awash with western cultural influence, Jose had been somewhat seduced by the drama of the English game, his boyhood side, Liverpool,  and, in particular, his heroes, Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish. Felix stressed the importance of the Portuguese game to Jose, and quickly realised it was unlikely he’d ever play at the highest level, thus the involving him in ball boy and scouting activity, and managing the under 16s, keen to instil in his son a future in the game.

Here is Jose Mourinho, aged 19, presented as one of the summer’s additions to Rio Ave.

Jose made his first senior football appearance for Rio Ave, then managed by his father, in 1980. He played as a defensive central midfielder and, despite reports to the contrary, actually played a considerable part in Rio Ave’s best ever season in 1981-82, where the team finished in a club record 5th place. Any notions of nepotism in team selection were swept aside, as Jose quickly made himself a popular figure in the dressing room with an easy, affable nature and quick wit. The domineering figure of Baltemar Brito took him under his wing and helped the youngster adjust to the challenges of senior football.

José Maria Pinho, Rio Ave’s then president, was not so open minded. Wary of accusations of nepotism, Pinho banned Jose from being selected for the final match of the season against champions Sporting Lisbon. Rio Ave would go on to lose the game 7-0 and it coloured Felix’s attitude so much against Pinho that he left the club that summer to join Belenenses, taking Jose with him. All in all he had played 16 times for Rio Ave, scoring twice.

At Belenenses, Jose again turned out as a defensive midfielder and defender 16 times, again scoring twice. It was without his father, though, that Jose was to enjoy the greatest period of a dogged career. Playing for Sesimbra in Setubal, in Portugal’s third division, between 1983 and ’85, Jose distinguished himself as one of the senior members of the team. Gaining the nickname ‘Ze’ ( the common short form for Jose in Portugal), Mourinho gained himself a reputation for constantly hounding the referee during matches. Jose played 35 times for Sesimbra, scoring only the once.

Jose Mourinho Player
Jose Mourinho Player

Backroom problems with wages and demotivation meant Mourinho left in 1985, but it was all the way down in Setubal’s Division 1, Jose thrived at his final club, Comércio e Indústria. As the managing legend say himself:

“I’m an intelligent person. I knew I was not going to go any higher. The second division was my level. ”

Unfortunately it was hardly an actual career. This was amateur football. He didn’t earn a wage and was required to pay for is own gear. Nevertheless, the atmosphere and camaraderie were unique. The side belonged to a wealthy Arab owner, who regularly paid out for parties, feasts and team bonding sessions, many of them all-nighters. The feeling in the side was one of fun and Jose got a name for the old bucket over the doorway prank one too many times. It was in the midst of all of this that Mourinho made himself something of a hero amongst the staff and fans at Comércio e Indústria. One night, following a late training session, Mourinho and his teammate, De, were the last to leave.  When De turned the ignition in his car, it burst into flames. De was knocked semi-conscious in the blast and the driver’s door was kept from opening by the heat. It was a 23 year old Mourinho that came to his rescue, prying De out of the car through the flames. Jose turned out 27 times for the side, scoring 8 goals, but it’ll be for that moment that he’ll be forever remembered at the club.

Mourinho photo

By then, Mourinho was already studying sports science and teaching physical education at schools level. He knew well what lay ahead. But it’s interesting nonetheless to look at the playing career of a dogged defensive midfielder / defender who seemed to grab his share of goals, getting ahead largely through forming strong bonds with his team mates in the dressing room thanks to a likeable manner and pestering referees at every opportunity. It could be argued Jose Mourinho’s greatest moments as a coach have come as the underdog.  Feats like beating Manchester United with Porto and both Barcelona and Bayern Munich with Inter, Mourinho relied heavily on a dogged, grinding attitude, a defensive playing style, phenomenal team spirit in the dressing room and a confrontational attitude toward referees and the authorities at the heart of football. It seems for Jose, some things never change.

So do you think Jose would’ve been as good a coach without his playing career?



There are quite a few biographies of the Special One, but if we could just recommend one, it would be “Jose Mourinho – the rise of the translator” by Ciaran Kelly.


Photo by Ronnie Macdonald

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