Mourinho And His Special Bond With These Six African Players

Mourinho And His Special Bond With These Six African Players
Credit: Iconsport

Jose Mourinho, aka ‘The Special One,' left the BayArena Leverkusen, Germany, in tears on Thursday night after he led the Italian Serie A giants AS Roma to the final of the UEFA Europa League. This is Roma's second European final in a row after they reached the UEFA Conference League Final in 2022, lifting the crown after a 1-0 win over Feyenoord.

Roma reached the Europa League Final this time after a goalless draw away at Bayer Leverkusen. The draw helped them secure a 1-0 victory on aggregate in their semifinal.

The Romans will feel confident about lifting the crown as The Special One has a perfect record in European competitions. He has won five out of five European finals, a unique record in football history.

After the final whistle, Mourinho was flooded with emotions and told Sky Sports that his concern isn’t marking his place in the Roma history books.

The Special One, known for building the careers of several players like Chelsea legend John Terry, African football icon Didier Drogba, Super Eagles legend John Obi Mikel, etc., revealed his goal for the final. He said: “It (his goal) is helping these kids (players) to grow and achieve important things. It’s also helping the Roma fans, who have given me so much since day one. It’s an immense joy to get to another final.”

The Special One's Special Bonds

The Portuguese coach is known for his special relationships with his players. While he has coached 100s of players and formed a relationship with many, his bond with West African players is unique.

As he once explained: “It isn’t about where a player comes from, but most West African players I have had to work with have something in common. They want to win all the time! You can see that their tenaciousness and fighting spirit. These breed of players could give you the extra touch. Players like Essien, Drogba and Eto: you can rely on to win each time.”

Below are some West African players that built special relationships with Mourinho, helping him become The Special One.

John Mikel Obi (Nigeria Super Eagles)

The Nigeria Super Eagles legend had an outstanding career, as he helped Chelsea win their first-ever UEFA Champions League in 2012. John Mikel Obi lifted every major trophy, including two Premier League titles, the UEFA Champions League, and the UEFA Europa League. Mikel, who joined the West London Club in 2006, also won the League Cup and FA Cup under Mourinho in 2007. When Mourinho returned to the club, he and Mikel Obi lifted the League Cup and Premier League in 2015 together.

“I’ve worked with many players around the world, but players like Mikel you can’t just wish away. He always has something special to add to the team mix and sometimes, you might need him to turn around games you wanted to stabilize the midfield and slow down the pace of opponents' attack. Mikel has that rare ability to hold on to the ball and play among a set of players, moving the ball to and fro,” said The Special One on the Nigeria Super Eagles legend.

Samuel Eto'o (Cameron)

Mourinho and Cameron football legend initially teamed at Inter Milan in the 2009–2010 campaign, when they won the Serie A championship, the Italian Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. Three years later, on his return to Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea manager, Jose brought Eto’o. Mourinho refused to let go of the Cameroon legend, describing him as the best signing of his career.

Mourinho saw Eto as one of the best players he coached, making it clear that the African player deserved to win a Ballon d’Or.

“It's difficult to understand how Samuel Eto'o never won the Ballon d'Or with the impressive career he had,” Mourinho once said in an interview.

“Samuel played for the best teams in the best leagues in the world. He scored an incredible amount of goals and was successful in different leagues. He played three Champions League Finals, winning two with Barcelona and scoring in both finals. He also won one Champions League at Inter and many league titles.”

“He was the best striker in the world for several years, and I think he deserved a Ballon d'Or, but these are things out of our control,” said The Special One.

Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)

Drogba and Jose had a special relationship as the latter signed the African football legend the moment he signed as a Chelsea manager in 2004.

His decision was vindicated as the Ivorian helped Chelsea clinch back-to-back Premier League titles. Drogba became a feared name in the Premier League and European competitions.

However, it was Drogba's attitude that stood out for Mourinho. The Special One recalled his first meeting with Drogba as a Chelsea manager, stating, “A few days passed (after the deal), and I met with Didier in a private airport in London. Again, he hugged me, but this time in an unforgettable way: an embrace that showed this man's gratitude, and the affection he feels towards people who mean a lot to him. Indescribable.”

“Then he told me: ‘Thank you. I will fight for you. You won't regret it. I will stay loyal to you forever. And that's just what he's done,” said the Roma manager.

Drogba, now retired from professional football, told the BBC in 2018: “Mourinho changed my life. He is someone really special to me.”

Michael Essien (Ghana)

Ghana legend, Michael Essien, played for Chelsea and Real Madrid under Mourinho. The player wrote history by winning the Premier League in his first year at Chelsea.

Despite playing under several great coaches, Essien named The Special One as the best coach he ever worked under during his playing career.

“He [Mourinho] would be the first one for me [in terms of managers I have worked under],” he told talkSports.

“He’s still a great manager. I worked under him, and we had a very good relationship, and I had a very good relationship with Ancelotti as well. Those two are very good managers.”

Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo)

Adebayor is another African player that shined under Mourinho and another player that calls him the best coach. The Togolese played for top clubs such as Monaco, the Gunners, Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Spurs. Mourinho coached him during his time in Madrid.

“I love Mourinho. We had a great relationship, and he was the one who brought me to Madrid, although it wasn’t easy for him to find a place for me on the side,” Adebayor said.

“The only trophy I have ever won was at Madrid with him. He is the best coach in the history of football.”

Benni McCarthy (South Africa)

In a recent interview, Banni revealed that Mourinho made him cry in their first meeting as the coach told him: “Benni, I know of you and I have watched you… I think you are a fantastic player, and I want you to be my guy.”

“Jose told me that I could always speak to him, even if it was to get something off my chest. I started crying, really. I thought ‘Wow!’ This had not happened to me in Europe,” McCarthy said.

“He was treating me like a son, and I thought, ‘I cannot disappoint this guy, he has given me the lifeline that I want’. I wanted to run through a brick wall for him.”

Mourinho's African Regret

The Special One owes a significant deal to African players. Last year, Mourinho revealed the integral role African strikers played in his career and how working with African strikers brought him many successes.

The Portuguese also explained his failure to get an African striker prevented him from winning the UEFA Champions League at Real Madrid.

With Tammy Abraham, a striker with Nigeria Super Eagles roots, within his Roma ranks, The Special One will feel comfortable and confident of adding to his European medals tally.

This article was most recently revised and updated 5 months ago

Chandan is a passionate writer, editor, and marketer with a love for football. He has bylines in leading online publications and has worked with renowned sports brands like The Olympics, Fox Sports Asia, and the Indian Super League (ISL). As for the unimpressive part, he loves Chelsea.