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Grant Wahl
March 07, 2011
He hasn't lost a league game at home in nine years and is eyeing an unprecedented third Champions League title with a third team. Real Madrid's maestro may be the best coach in any sport, anywhere
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March 07, 2011

What's So Special About Jose Mourinho?

He hasn't lost a league game at home in nine years and is eyeing an unprecedented third Champions League title with a third team. Real Madrid's maestro may be the best coach in any sport, anywhere

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Indeed, Real Madrid's fans and directors are accustomed to winning with panache, a word that has rarely described Mourinho's teams. Jorge Valdano, Real's director of soccer, once called the style of Mourinho's Chelsea "s--- on a stick," and the two men have jousted in the Spanish media this season. For his part The Special One points out that he now has more entertaining and possession-oriented players. "With Inter we had no qualities to control the game by having ball possession all the time," Mourinho says. "At Real Madrid, I am adapting to the qualities of the players. We have people that can control the game not by defending but by having possession of the ball."

None is more electrifying than Ronaldo, 26, a whooshing force of speed, skill and hair gel who's engaged in an epic battle with Barcelona's 23-year-old Lionel Messi. Through Sunday, Ronaldo had scored 34 goals in 39 games in all competitions; Messi, 39 in 35. Under Mourinho, his Portuguese countryman, Ronaldo has returned to the devastating form he showed two years ago with Manchester United. "I've always had great players, but I've never had a Cristiano Ronaldo," Mourinho says. "Last year Real relied too much on Cristiano to decide things. The best thing is not to make him feel responsible for the success or nonsuccess of the team. He's one more—with different qualities, of course. He can make the difference when things are very equalized, but behind him he has a structure. I think he's much more comfortable."

In many ways the season's first six months have been a prologue to the Spanish Armageddon that could erupt over the next three. Real Madrid and Barça may well be the world's two best teams, and so Mourinho will be judged on how his side performs in the big games: the Champions League and head-to-head against Barcelona. The Catalans won round one on their home turf in November, a 5--0 humiliation that was the worst loss of Mourinho's career. Yet it remains one of only two Real Madrid defeats in 32 league and Champions League games, and the two rivals could meet as many as four more times this season: in La Liga (April 17), the Spanish cup final (April 20) and perhaps in a two-leg Champions League showdown.

The rivalry represents more than just two cities, tracing as it does to the days when Real Madrid was a symbol of the Franco regime, Barcelona of Catalan resistance. For now Barça has the advantage: a seven-point lead in La Liga. And yet it would be folly to dismiss Mourinho, who knows as well as anyone that the one time he beat Barcelona in four tries last season was in the game that mattered most.

London, April 2007. Talk about odd pairings. WWE Raw has come to England, and now Shane McMahon is interrupting his ring monologue: "Wait a minute, I know you! That's José Mourinho! The head coach, if you will, of the Chelsea football team!" A chorus of boos (and a few cheers) rains down on Mourinho, who's sitting between his two children in the front row. Mourinho smiles, wags a finger at McMahon. The coach is in on this. So maybe Shane-O-Mac butchered his name, pronouncing it HOE-zay instead of the correct joe-ZAY. Who cares? It's The Special One and pro wrestling! It's ... a perfect match.

When Mourinho returns home from Real Madrid's Valdebebas training center, he's no longer the boss. That role falls to his wife of 21 years, Tami, and their kids: daughter Matilde, 14, and son José Jr., 10. "I have to do what they want," Mourinho says. "I have to watch the programs they want to see, the movies they want to go to. I have to go to the wrestling because they enjoy the wrestling."

Mourinho's children have attended the American Schools in London, Milan and Madrid. He expects they will go to college in the U.S. And therein lies an opportunity for soccer in America. "We want to be close to our kids the maximum we can," he says. "So in a few years when they go in that direction, me and my wife are going to go in the same direction. I see myself coaching a [club] team, coaching the national team or helping develop soccer in the U.S. When I'm tired of winning things in Europe, it's something I want to do. I want to coach the Portuguese national team, and I want to work in the United States."

Do the math. Matilde will be college age in four years, José Jr. in eight. The timing would set up well for Mourinho to take over the U.S. soon after, say, World Cup 2018. He already brings his teams to Los Angeles for preseason training every year. "I love it," Mourinho says of America. "The people have a very open mentality. Everybody is the same. Status doesn't count a lot. I like it very much in this way."

If Mourinho eventually crosses the Atlantic, it would be the perfect coda to his international high-wire act. In the ultimate global sport, he has become the ultimate global coach, crossing borders, switching languages and winning championships wherever he goes. For The Special One, remember, the game is all about the transitions.

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