The Portuguese Experience in Football: The Mourinho Influence
By the end of 2020, a report showed that the top 20 teams in Europe (According to UEFA) had 5-6% of their starting players consisting of Portuguese players. That's part of the starting XI without counting the bench. 20% of those 20 teams had a Portuguese manager. Such numbers occur for the first time ever in Portugal's history.
Why am I using UEFA's ranking? Despite it is clearly not the best indicator of clubs' strength, I chose it to eliminate certain clubs
- Liga Nos clubs
- Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C.
The latter is my main goal because these days when you think of a side with Portuguese players mainly, you think of Wolverhampton. However, it is essential to note that the Wolves aren't really the driving force here as much as they are a symptom. The phenomena here is much bigger than the Wolves.
It is the fact that we suddenly saw a national team become no less good than the likes of Belgium and is two positions away (A striker next to Cristiano Ronaldo and a center-back next to Ruben Dias) from having their entire starting and bench team featuring in top European clubs that regularly play and compete in the UEFA Champions League, sometimes Europa League, at worst they finish in the top of their local leagues.
To look at Portugal as a team now and compare it even the time they made it to the Euro final in 2004, you'd see quite the rise of quality. Even if we compare it to 10 years ago, or even a few years ago, we'd a revolution of quality rising rabidly. There are different reasons behind that revolution and today I will be talking about one, as that one is also where it started, and he is a special one.
José Mário dos Santos Mourinho
To be more general it is Portuguese managers in general, but it is really Mourinho over everyone else here.
In 2002 and as he was barely starting his career with Porto, Mourinho brought in new coaching principles to football. Basic coaching principles like analyzing opponents, which really wasn't something managers used to do before Mourinho, or at least not as intensively whether inside Portugal or outside of it.
Fancy words aside, football periodization basically means laying down a training plan and program for the entire season aimed to prepare the players in the five basic elements of any footballer. The five Ss as they're called.
I am obviously not saying managers weren't doing that before Mourinho but the idea of periodization that while it was training your players to do all of that, it was also balancing between the amount/time of training and the intensity of it to give a great prediction to when players could reach their top performance level, something that varies between managers.
The details of this don't matter as much the importance of it should be noted as not a manager in Europe manages a team without a detailed football periodization program. Some managers did do it, but not as detailed oriented as Mourinho and definitely not inside Portugal.
After Mourinho's success with Porto in 2004, people got interested in analyzing his work and the reasons he was successful, reasons you're probably aware of by now:
1- Mourinho Learned Managing At University
If it wasn't for his success, this point would have been used to mock him. He was successful so it became a source of inspiration
2- Mourinho's Past Experience
Mourinho served as Barcelona's assistant manager under Sir Bobby Robson and Louis Van Gaal between 1996 and 2000 and he learned a lot from both.
3- Mourinho's Analyzing of Opponents
That was Mourinho's thing, it later was also Rafael Benítez's thing before everyone started doing it with some clubs hiring entire teams to do that.
A New Cycle
Mourinho was a new man in the football world with certain aspects. His big success, while it came without a great prior history, inspired people. When that happens people make one of two decisions, either copy him or find an alternative to what he is doing. Either way, Mourinho started big changes.
Portugal didn't have great big idols in football prior to Mourinho. Yes, you could probably name Eusebio or Figo, but none of them have that legendary, inspiring status you'd find in other top nations in Europe. That's normal as Portugal's biggest accomplishment prior to Mourinho is finishing third in the 1966 World Cup.
Mourinho was basically writing the first page of history. This is where the first Portuguese coaching culture was created.
Of course, copying Mourinho, as with every trend, was overdone to death. According to Tiago Mendes, who played for Chelsea, Juventus, Lyon, and Atletico Madrid, the Portuguese league was the toughest among every league he played in. This is not because the Portuguese league was the best by our definition but because most managers aimed to only disrupt the opponent's team.
Some teams don't what they can do as footballers but to play to not let the opposition play.
Mourinho's style was overdone and exaggerated, this usually leads to the countertrend led by Porto's rivals, Benfica. But that's the story for the next part.