Friday 22 September 2017

Mourinho and Villas-Boas: Master v apprentice

Porto partnership seems a long time ago as Mourinho and Villas-Boas play out their simmering feud for all to witness, writes Ian Hawkey

Ian Hawkey

When Andre Villas-Boas first worked with Jose Mourinho, at Porto, the older man identified in the younger a set of skills he admired and recognised.

The rigour of Villas-Boas' analyses made him the outstanding candidate to head up an Opponent Observation department, scouting and reporting on future rivals.

By its nature, the job requires discretion, even a degree of secrecy. Anonymity is an asset. But once Mourinho and the close group of assistants who move with him had won the second of their Premier League titles together at Chelsea, Mourinho detected signs that the youngest of his core staff, Villas-Boas, nourished ambitions beyond quietly assembling dossiers.

So, in the summer of 2006, Villas-Boas told his boss he would like to accept an offer to provide expert opinion for a Portuguese television channel, SIC, during the World Cup. It would be the turning point in a relationship which has turned from close friendship to froideur.

As a result of his TV work, Villas-Boas' profile in Portugal soared. On screen he came across as knowledgeable, articulate and innovative, a Gary Neville animating a staid format.

He became a star of the World Cup coverage, at least until, abruptly, SIC's broadcast team cleared the decks for a box-office special guest pundit for their broadcast of the quarter-final, England versus Portugal. It was Mourinho, and it was a surprise. Mourinho had for years consistently turned down approaches from SIC.

Villas-Boas' independent aspirations grew as, in 2008, Mourinho and his staff moved to Inter Milan. Villas-Boas explained to Mourinho he wanted to progress in management, diversify, have more contact with players, and though he had sought the opportunity to do so with Mourinho, he felt Mourinho was reluctant to involve him in tasks outside the scouting and reporting brief.

The pair remained in regular touch, mostly by text, when Villas-Boas took his first senior job, aged 31 – asked to rescue Academica de Coimbra from the lower reaches of the Portuguese top division.

He was quickly successful and admired, particularly for his man-management, the skill he had felt limited scope to develop under Mourinho.

"Most of all, he was very good at dealing face to face with the players," remembers Lito Fernandes Aguair, the senior striker at Academica at the time. "He was young but was able to give off the impression of experience, and he prepared us very well indeed. For me he's remained a good friend. You'll find he still has a lot of friends from Academica."

DOMESTIC

Likewise at Porto, where Villas-Boas is among invitees to a dinner tonight to celebrate 120 years of a club he led, in his first full season as a coach, to the 2010-11 treble of Europa League, Portuguese Cup and domestic championship, in the last of which they suffered no defeats.

It was when Porto, Mourinho's old club, gave Villas-Boas the senior coaching job that direct contact with Mourinho ceased. Villas-Boas, whom Mourinho yesterday called a "kid", had anticipated hostility from his former boss.

Anybody who works with Mourinho for seven years knows his adversarial habits, and that one of them is pointed criticism towards other coaches who have ever occupied the same posts as he has.

Mourinho used to regularly taunt Claudio Ranieri, his predecessor at Chelsea, when Ranieri worked at Juventus and Roma – rivals to Mourinho's Inter – about their relative career records. In Spain, Mourinho belittled Manuel Pellegrini, whose dismissal by Madrid created the vacancy for him, by saying: "If I get sacked by Madrid I wouldn't go on to Malaga, I'd go on to a big club."

Avram Grant, Mourinho's successor at Chelsea, and Rafael Benitez, a former Inter and Chelsea coach, are familiar with the modus operandi.

Villas-Boas encountered it shortly after he started at Porto. Mourinho, consulted by the daily 'Record', said: "People will ask why Porto chose someone who has never been a coach, apart from three or four months at Academica. You can't make comparisons with me because when I started at Porto, I had experience out on the pitch as a coach."

In fact, you could make comparisons. Their body of experience was almost identical: Porto took on a Villa-Boas who had 30 competitive matches under his belt at Academica; Porto had taken on, in 2002, a Mourinho who had overseen 31 matches as head coach of Benfica – briefly – and then Uniao de Leiria. Both won trebles at Porto, both moved on to Chelsea.

Lito, the former Academica ally, says: "I'm really not surprised Andre is successful in English football." But those who knew Villas-Boas as part of Team Mou recall that breaking out of it had been a gamble.

"He had a good life, doing what he did for Mourinho," says Ricardo Carvalho, the defender Mourinho worked with at three clubs and who appreciated Villas-Boas' briefings at Chelsea and Porto. "He had the self-confidence to take that risk."

He gave up the comradeship, too. Others who have shared in Mourinho's success and spread their wings have not. Steve Clarke and Brendan Rodgers, who both coached at Chelsea between 2004 and 2007, hear frequent nods of approval and encouragement from their old chief. Baltemar Brito, part of Team Mou for six years through Porto and Chelsea until he decided to go solo, remains in touch with Mourinho. Brito spent a few weeks coaching the Lisbon club Belenenses.

He then went to a club in Libya as the uprising was gathering momentum, a marginally more perilous gig than being an ex-friend of Jose Mourinho. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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