Old Trafford 9 March 2004: It would be ludicrous to suggest Jose Mourinho owes his success to one goal. Two Champions League wins, a UEFA Cup success and league titles in Portugal, England and Italy can be attributed to outstanding man-management skills, meticulous attention to detail and superb tactical awareness.
However, would Mourinho’s rise to the top of European club football have been so rapid had his FC Porto side not upset Manchester United at Old Trafford in their last 16 tie in Europe’s premier club competition?
After losing the first leg 2-1, the home side seemed to be in control after Paul Scholes headed home on 31 minutes. However as the game moved into injury time, the visitors were still hanging on in there, winning a free-kick outside the United penalty area.
Tim Howard could only palm Benny McCarthy’s strike back into play and as the American keeper collided with his left-hand post, Costinha scooped the ball into the unguarded net. Cue Mourinho’s sprint down the touchline.
Porto’s win blew the competition wide open and they went onto eliminate Lyon and Deportivo La Coruna before comfortably seeing off Monaco 3-0 in the final in Gaelsencherkin. Porto were champions of Europe for the second time (also in 1987) and significantly, it was one of those rare occasions in the Champions League era when the winner of the competition has come from outside of the big four European leagues of England, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Mourinho left Portugal for England, and Chelsea, before the start of the following season. His career, and his many successes along the way since then, have been well documented.
There is surely no doubting that even if Costinha hadn’t scored, and Porto had slipped out of the competition at the stage they were expected to, then Mourinho would have gone onto bigger and better things. He already had a growing reputation following his domestic successes in Portugal and that victory over Celtic in Seville the previous year.
Mourinho’s personality hasn’t done him any harm over the past decade either. Articulate, charismatic and treading a fine line between confidence and arrogance, the media love him and he is never out of the news for long.
However, it is equally fair to suggest that upsetting Manchester United and going on to win the competition raised Mourinho’s credibility, and his profile, to a new level. If he was able to win the Champions League with a team from one of European football’s ‘lesser’ leagues on limited resources, what was to stop him doing the same with one of the games financial superpowers?
Roman Abramovich clearly thought the same, though Mourinho never did deliver the ultimate prize to Stamford Bridge.
Costinha’s late equaliser on that night in Manchester, was not only to have huge implications for his club, but also on the longer-term career of his then coach.