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special one Love him or loathe him, Mourinho was always something special

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Jose Mourinho leaves Tottenham Hotspur's training ground on Monday after being sacked as head coach. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Jose Mourinho leaves Tottenham Hotspur's training ground on Monday after being sacked as head coach. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Jose Mourinho leaves Tottenham Hotspur's training ground on Monday after being sacked as head coach. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

I will never forget my first encounter with Jose Mourinho. It was in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium during the 2005 League Cup final, and the Chelsea boss rushed to the technical area to accuse my team-mate, Luis Garcia, of diving.

Dashing to the scene, I let rip. “Don’t you f****** start about diving,” I shouted. “Your Porto side was the f****** worst.”

The altercation lasted 30 seconds. The Chelsea and Liverpool fans loved it. Chelsea beat us after extra-time and I was distraught. After the game, Mourinho found me. His mood was much different as he offered me his commiserations.

“You know I was just fighting for my team, don’t you?” he said.

This was just the start of the clubs’ rivalry which peaked in later Champions League encounters. By the time of the 2007 European Cup semi-final, the barbs were frequent.

“Mourinho is the funniest thing to come out of London since Del Boy,” I told the media, knowing our crowd would be whipped up by the presence of the panto villain.

“Fighting for my team,” as Jose would appreciate, as we emerged winners.

While it never seemed that way, the mutual respect was massive. Other than Alex Ferguson’s best Manchester United teams, I never faced a side that so epitomised the personality of their coach as Chelsea between 2004 and 2007.

I knew within a few weeks of Mourinho moving to Stamford Bridge that had he ever joined Liverpool I would have loved working for him as much as I did my favourite club managers. The Chelsea players thought of him in the same way Liverpool’s do Jurgen Klopp today.

Mourinho was the manager of the decade between 2001-’10, and I admired the street-fighting quality of his coaching.

When he joined Real Madrid in 2010, Mourinho went head-to-head with the best side in football history, in Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, and won La Liga. That took guts as well as skill.

I saw aspects of my own sporting character in Mourinho (right), and it has been a pleasure to meet him and understand him more since my retirement. I once spent time with him in the Real Madrid team hotel, invited with my son James, where he asked my opinion on how Manchester United would set up against his team in the next day’s Champions League round-of-16 match. I saw someone always thinking about the game, wondering where he could find that extra 5pc.

When Mourinho was United’s manager he invited me to the Carrington training ground, where we talked about the modern game and challenges of getting his current squad to become warriors like John Terry and Didier Drogba at Chelsea.

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We shared stories about one of our pet hates – players who refuse to play with slight injuries.

“I can’t stand it when someone is out with what they call ‘a knock’. I don’t even believe they are injured,” I said. Mourinho agreed. Then he lamented how a lot of modern players are untouchable, making it more difficult to enforce discipline.

Our most recent meeting was at Goodison Park last week, before what proved to be his final game in charge of Spurs. I was standing alongside the Sky TV reporter pre-match when he quizzed Mourinho on his formation.

“Jamie can work it out when the game starts,” he nodded in my direction.

Why am I referencing all this as if his management career is over?

Because in the aftermath of his sacking there is more focus on what he is no longer achieving rather than how much he has already done. Say what you want about his recent record, it does not change the fact Mourinho is one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Now it is over at Spurs, he deserves that recognition as part of a respectful goodbye from English football, because I do not see how Mourinho can ever work again in the Premier League.

He has managed three of the ‘Big Six’ and the other three would never hire him. He does not strike me as someone interested in joining a “project” that does not offer a realistic chance of winning the biggest prizes.

The events at Spurs will not tarnish his Premier League legacy. Only Ferguson has won more Premier League titles than Mourinho.

Spurs appointed him to bring success, prepared to compromise their traditional style. That’s why the timing of Mourinho’s sacking is bizarre. A win over Manchester City at Wembley before a summer handshake would have made more sense.

If Mourinho has managed his final league game in England, we should say this; love him or loathe him, it was special.

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