Tonight, Jose Mourinho comes face-to-face with Didier Drogba for the second season running, having faced the Galatasaray centre-forward with Real manager last year.
“I’m not going to say that he is my favourite player because I have had a lot of truly special players, but if I had to choose one, I might go for Didier,” Mourinho said ahead of that meeting. “As a player he is out of this world.”
But who would accompany Drogba in Mourinho’s favourite XI of players he’s worked with? Amongst four top clubs and dozens of players, it’s a tricky task – but it would probably look something like this…
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech
The Czech Republic goalkeeper arrived at Chelsea at the same time as Mourinho and quickly established himself as number one, a position he’s maintained for nearly a decade. Although his form dipped after his fractured skull, he’s rarely made significant mistakes under Mourinho, and it will be interesting to see how the coach deals with the situation involving Thibaut Courtois – on loan at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea – considering his love of Cech.
Mourinho absolutely adores functional, versatile players in full-back positions: Paolo Ferreira, Alvaro Arbeloa and now Cesar Azpilicueta have all proved favourites as defensive-minded, consistent, ’7/10 every week’ options. But Mourinho’s best right-back has been Maicon, who has declined in the past couple of years but was superb in his treble-winning season at Inter under Mourinho, storming forward relentlessly down the flank in an otherwise narrow 4-3-1-2 system.
Left-back: Javier Zanetti
Right-back, left-back or central midfield – wherever Mourinho used Zanetti, he was superb. In a way, that makes him Mourinho’s equivalent of Ferreira, Arbeloa or Azpilicueta at Inter, but Zanetti offers extra technical quality, genuine ability in every position, and was a fantastic leader. Arguably the most consistent performer in Europe over the last two decades, the Argentine loved working under Mourinho.
Centre-back: John Terry
Terry has always thrived under Mourinho, partly because of the confidence the Portuguese coach seems to bring him, and partly because he’s able to defend deep where his lack of pace isn’t exposed. He developed into a genuinely world-class centre-back in Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea, and despite Andre Villas-Boas and Rafael Benitez not being fans, he’s survived to become a crucial part of Mourinho’s second Chelsea side, too.
Centre-back: Ricardo Carvalho
A brilliant all-round defender, Carvalho made his name at Porto under Mourinho before following to Chelsea and later linking up with him at Real Madrid, too. You were never entirely sure whether Carvalho was an intelligent reader of the game with great guile on the ball, or a rugged old-fashioned defender capable of getting physical and dirty. He was either when required, and therefore a brilliant option in various types of approach under Mourinho.
Holding midfielder: Esteban Cambiasso
Although Mourinho loved Claude Makelele at Chelsea, he always seemed to reserve a special type of love for Cambiasso at Inter. Under Mourinho, Cambiasso evolved from a useful all-round midfielder into one of the best in the world, and it was interesting how often the Argentine would come over to the bench to speak with Mourinho when the coach wanted to alter his strategy midway through matches. He wasn’t the club captain, but was the on-pitch director, and one of the most intelligent players Mourinho has worked with.
Central midfielder: Frank Lampard
Lampard isn’t the most naturally gifted footballer, but under Mourinho he developed into an amazingly consistent goalscorer from midfield, breaking forward from an inside-left position to the edge of the ‘D’, and beginning an amazing run of ten consecutive Premier League seasons where he reached double figures. He combined that ruthless efficiency with great power in the centre of the pitch, and therefore was perfect for Mourinho’s first Chelsea side.
Central midfielder: Deco
A talented but inconsistent playmaker in his early days at Porto, Deco is one of the greatest examples of the ‘Mourinho bounce’ players enjoy while working under the Portuguese coach. He became a consistently effective playmaker, simultaneously dictating the flow of the game while producing decisive contributions in the final third, including a brilliant second goal in the 2004 European Cup final win over Monaco.
Right-wing: Samuel Eto’o
Although he prefers playing as a striker, one of Mourinho’s finest achievements at Inter was getting Eto’o to play as a hard-working, disciplined option on the flank – most memorably in the European Cup semi-final at the Nou Camp in 2010, when he spent the majority of the game on the edge of his own box. Eto’o was also a devastating attacking weapon when needed at Inter, and has linked up with Mourinho again this season, presumably as a stopgap solution until Chelsea can sign Diego Costa or Falcao in the summer.
Left-wing: Cristiano Ronaldo
There have been a couple of minor bitchy comments between the duo since Mourinho left Real Madrid last summer, but the fact remains that Ronaldo provided Mourinho with an astonishing stream of goals during their time together. 168 in 164 is an incredible record, and while Real had a variety of other star players, no-one else has dominated a Mourinho side to such a large extent.
Centre-forward: Didier Drogba
Who else? Mourinho’s self-confessed favourite player, who worked amazingly hard without offering a consistent goal threat in his first two seasons under Mourinho, before stepping it up and winning the Golden Boot in his final season under the Portuguese coach. Powerful, self-confident and capable of saving his best performances for the biggest games, the Ivorian will be a huge threat for Galatasaray this evening.
Julio Cesar: as Mourinho fell out with Iker Casillas at Real Madrid, Cesar is the obvious back-up.
Lucio: an uncompromising, rugged mountain of a centre-back who was superb throughout Inter’s treble season.
Claude Makelele: his consistency in the holding role of Mourinho’s 4-3-3 prompted a mini-revolution in Premier League tactics.
Michael Essien: superb under Mourinho under Chelsea, less impressive at Real Madrid, but has such faith in his coach that he refers to Mourinho as ‘daddy’.
Mesut Ozil: a superb counter-attacker, capable of brilliant off-the-ball runs to launch breaks at great speed.
Wesley Sneijder: astonishingly good during his one season together with Mourinho, and another who will face his former coach tonight.
Diego Milito: Only one season with Mourinho, but what a season – a constant stream of goals, including two in the 2010 European Cup final.
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