As one of England’s three premier domestic competitions, the League Cup has been a cherished prize for many a manager in its 50-year history. For some new bosses, League Cup glory has helped to kickstart a new era of success at a new club. In this series, FootballFanCast looks at a few managers who first tasted glory in their new jobs as a League Cup winner, and what they’ve gone on to achieve.
English football wasn’t really ready for Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese who had conquered Europe with Porto arrived at Chelsea in the summer of 2004 proclaiming himself to be “the Special One” and promising in an air of impenetrable self-confidence, that he would bring Roman Abramovich the continental domination the Russian billionaire so coveted. In many ways, the egotistical Mourinho was the perfect manager to work for an owner who expected the world.
The shower of silverware which followed at Stamford Bridge began later in Mourinho’s debut campaign – and it took the Special One just eight months to secure his first trophy, with a 3-2 extra-time victory over Liverpool in the League Cup Final in February 2005. It was the culmination of a campaign in which Mourinho had broadly bucked the emerging trend of Premier League teams fielding young sides in the competition, as their route to the final had hardly afforded it.
Chelsea progressed through the early rounds by overcoming Premier League rivals West Ham and Newcastle, before a 2-1 away win over Fulham in the quarter-finals set them up for a two-legged semi-final against Manchester United. The public rivalry between Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, who viewed the Portuguese as his newest arch-rival, had already begun, so when the two sides played out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge only for Chelsea to produce a win in Manchester, Mourinho cherished the victory.
Thanks to their difficult schedule, Chelsea’s League Cup adventure was to provide no rest for the regular starters. Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Damien Duff appeared in all six of the team’s matches in the competition, with Claude Makelele, Mateja Kezman, William Gallas, Didier Drogba and Paulo Ferreira among those to make at least four appearances. All of these players would appear in at least 40 games over the course of the year.
The final itself didn’t go exactly according to plan. John Arne Riise scored the fastest goal in the history of the League Cup final, putting the Reds ahead after only a minute, and it wasn’t until ten minutes from the end that Liverpool’s Polish stopper Jerzy Dudek was beaten by a misplaced header from his own captain, Steven Gerrard. A scrambled finish by Drogba and a moment of opportunism by Kezman secured Chelsea the lead and even after Antonio Nunez’ header, Mourinho’s men held on to secure their first title for the new manager.
At a time when other teams were utilising the League Cup to blood younger players or experiment with different formations, it was indicative of Mourinho’s mindset that Chelsea’s regulars were not rested for League Cup fixtures (with one or two notable exceptions, including Petr Cech and John Terry). After six trophies in two years at Porto, Mourinho was used to winning. It was a trait that his expensively-assembled squad had brought with them from around Europe, and one he was not expecting to break.
Following their triumph in the League Cup, Chelsea went on to lift the Premier League title that May and successfully defend it the following year. As well as an FA Cup crown and a Community Shield, Mourinho would also lift the League Cup a second time, in 2007, after Drogba inspired a comeback win over Arsenal.
Today, Mourinho is universally admired as one of the world’s best managers. His approach continues to divide opinion, but his record of winning trophies – another five in his two seasons at Inter Milan, three more thus far in his Real Madrid tenure – will establish him when his career is over as one of the most successful managers in modern times. For the three-time WSM World Manager of the Year, it all started – in England at least – with the League Cup.
Roberto Di Matteo is beginning to step out of the shadow of his predecessor, and what better way to complete the process, than win this year’s Capital One Cup? Chelsea are in the driving seat and you’d be mad to write them off with or without ‘The Special One’.