Teams of the Decade #4: Porto, 2002-04

March 8, 2010

Almost six years on, it’s slightly difficult to describe what an incredible job Jose Mourinho did at Porto. Looking across this side and seeing names such as Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Maniche and Costinha, the first reaction is to think, ‘Ah, it was a team packed full of good players’.

But before Mourinho, these were mostly nobodies – either run-of-the-mill players in a decent Porto side, or players plucked from unfashionable clubs in the Liga Sagres – Nuno Valente was signed from Leiria, Paolo Ferreira from Vitoria de Setubal.

It’s a credit to Mourinho that, for two seasons, those two were amongst the best two full-backs in Europe. Since coming to England, both have been exposed as relatively mediocre defenders, but at Porto they were genuinely spectacular, bombing up and down the flanks like Roberto Carlos and Cafu, with the safeguard of three holding midfielders to cover for them.

Aside from that, this was a relatively basic team tactically. Generally setting out in a 4-3-1-2 system, there was nothing tactically innovative about this side. However, they were without question the most well-drilled club side on this list. The defensive line was incredibly effective at catching opposition forwards offside, often playing high up the pitch and using a frankly aggressive offside trap that continued to bamboozle opposition forwards. The midfield worked as a unit rather than a collection of individuals, and Mourinho used different forwards according to the opposition at hand.

This team was often painted as a defensive side, but in reality Mourinho had a flexible approach, and the side would play in completely different ways for individual circumstances. In the quarter-final of the winning Champions League run, Porto trounced a much-fancied Lyon side 4-2 on aggregate in a tremendously open two-legged tie. Then, in the semi-final they produced the most amazing display of defensive football imaginable, to run out 1-0 winners over two legs against Deportivo La Coruna, with the winner coming from a penalty away at the Riazor, where Depor had an incredible record.

The final against Monaco was a great ocassion for football – two unfancied sides with talented young managers doing battle in a wonderful new stadium. Monaco were unlucky in losing skipper Ludovic Giuly to injury, forcing them to change fro ma 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, and this played into Porto’s hands, as they then dominated the central midfield area. Carlos Alberto’s snapshot came from nothing to put Porto 1-0 up, but in the second half they were incredible, sticking seven men rigidly in front of their keeper, and attacking only with three players at time. And twice they counter-attacked and scored, through Deco and Aleynichev.

Who knows when the next side from a ’small’ footballing country will become champions of Europe again? It’s not unrealistic to say that this might be the last side to ever achieve this. The dominance of the ‘Big 4′ along with Barcelona and Milan in recent years has made for a less interesting competition, and hopefully Michel Platini will continue to try and address the inequality within European football in the next few years.

But Porto’s run was not just about the Champions League. Mourinho also won the UEFA Cup the previous season, the league twice, the Portuguese Cup once (and once runner-up) and the Portuguese SuperCup.

Most importantly, it introduced us to a man who will go down in history as one of the all-time managerial greats. A man who never played professional footballer in his life, a man whose first major job in football was working as an interpretor for Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, and a man who is now presiding over an 130-game unbeaten home record at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. Mourinho will be around for a long time yet, and his story as a manager is probably only in its infancy, but he will never achieve something as amazing as this Champions League win ever again.

Three videos here – the two second-half Champions League goals, and Mourinho’s legendary run down the touchline at Old Trafford.

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