Ronaldo, Kane, McTominay: 13 players who thrived under Jose Mourinho

For a man that has ruined football for years with his negative, anti-football approach, Jose Mourinho sure has won a lot.

The greatest heel in the sport, if ever Mourinho was bored of the beautiful game, there would absolutely be a spot in professional wrestling for him, considering his charisma and ability with a microphone in front of his face.

He might not play the most conventionally beautiful football in the world, nor may he be the most likeable man, but he’s a serial winner. Just look at his CV. From destroying the Premier League with Chelsea and winning European silverware with Porto and Inter, to his stint at Real Madrid and winning silverware at a broken Manchester United.

If you’re fully aboard the Mourinho train as a player, you’ll reap the rewards. Plenty of players have earned the Mourinho seal of approval over the years, and have gone on to have top careers, often citing his help as a means of achieving certain levels.

In honour of the ever polarising, always entertaining pantomime villain that is Mourinho, GIVEMESPORT has compiled a list of 13 players who thrived under his tutelage.

13. Cristiano Ronaldo

On the surface, a clash of egos as gargantuan as this one should be shifting the Earth’s tectonic plates, not working together in harmony at a football club. But alas, Mourinho and Ronaldo hit it off during their time together at Real Madrid. Ronaldo won a European Golden Shoe while playing under Mourinho and would score 60 goals in all competitions in a season, before proving instrumental as Real wrapped up La Decima. Admittedly, though, Ronaldo is a freak and things wouldn’t have been much different, regardless of manager.

LA CORUNA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 23: Head coach Jose Mourinho (L) of Real Madrid CF gives instructions to Cristiano Ronaldo (2ndl) on the desk during the La Liga match between RC Deportivo La Coruna and Real Madrid CF at Riazor Stadium on February 23, 2013 in La Coruna, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

12. John Obi Mikel

It’s strange to think that John Obi Mikel’s career at the top level could – and probably should – have started with Manchester United, but Mourinho was having none of it. The young midfielder had impressed him in 2004 and, after a very strange saga was resolved, he finally became a fully-fledged Chelsea man in 2006. It took a while for Mourinho to break into Mikel, but when he did, he became a force, dominating at the base of Chelsea’s midfield and locking games off like nobody’s business.

11. Diego Costa

Famously explosive but always a goal threat in his peak, Diego Costa embodied everything that Mourinho wants in his teams. S**t-housery of the highest order. Signed by Mourinho in 2014 ahead of his second season back at Stamford Bridge in his second spell, Costa was like a rabid wolverine for Chelsea, scoring 20 Premier League goals as they won the league. It began to unravel after that, just as Mourinho’s tenure did, but that 2014/15 season was sweet. A shame we didn’t get to see more of this pairing.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND – AUGUST 18: Manager Jose Mourinho of Chelsea speaks to Diego Costa of Chelsea after the Barclays Premier League match between Burnley and Chelsea at Turf Moor on August 18, 2014 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Much like Brock Lesnar is a star in his own right, but also an undisputed Paul Heyman guy, Ibrahimovic is much the same with Mourinho. The iconic Swede had a particular affinity for Mourinho, despite being a star in his own right. Ibrahimovic played under the Portuguese manager at Inter, before leaving for Barcelona, where he famously didn’t get on so well with famed rival Pep Guardiola. The two linked up again at Manchester United in 2016, and Ibrahimovic has said in his autobiography that he was ‘willing to die’ for the boss.

9. Tammy Abraham

Out of favour at Chelsea, the minute Mourinho called Abraham from Rome in an attempt to bring him to Serie A, you knew something special was coming. Abraham signed for Roma ahead of the 2021/22 season and has blossomed in Italy. Given the Mourinho treatment as the main man at the top of his starting XI, Abraham is thriving as Roma’s talisman. This could be the start of a special partnership.

ROME, ITALY – MARCH 05: Tammy Abraham of Roma celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Serie A match between AS Roma and Atalanta BC at Stadio Olimpico on March 05, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

8. Claude Makelele

Having already enjoyed a storied career around Europe with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, Makelele headed to Chelsea in 2003. It wasn’t until Mourinho’s arrival in 2004, however, where he was truly utilised and appreciated. Recognised for his mammoth performances as Chelsea’s defensive midfielder, Mourinho regularly sung the praises of the Frenchman, declaring him Chelsea’s ‘Player of the Year’ as they stormed to the Premier League. Under Mourinho, the ‘Makelele role’ came to life in full gear and saw him finally recognised for his obscene talents.

7. Harry Kane

We’ve all seen it. Mourinho’s stint at Tottenham – crucially his arrival – was documented for Amazon Prime. In his early days at the club, he struck up a bond with Kane, who was already one of Europe’s most clinical forwards. But Mourinho promised Kane that he could help him to ‘explode’ and reach the very top level. He did. Developing a new dimension to his game, we saw the Englishman suddenly add a creative side to himself, dropping deep, playing with his back to goal and becoming a creator as well as a scorer. 45 goals and 18 assists from 62 games under Mourinho evidences his influence.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 15: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur congratulates Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur following the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur at Molineux on December 15, 2019 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

6. Scott McTominay

Plucking him out of the academy in 2017, it didn’t take long for a young McTominay to become Mourinho’s go-to man at Manchester United. 2017/18 proved his breakout season, where he impressed the boss so much, that Mourinho invented a ‘Manager’s Player of the Year’ award to give to him at the end of the season. Seriously. While many thought Mourinho was only interested due to McTominay being tall and physical, the Scotland international has developed significantly into a box-to-box threat and a favourite under every manager since.

Jurgen Klopp signs Liverpool contract extension (Football Terrace)

5. John Terry

Selected as club captain by Mourinho ahead of the 2004/05 season, Terry was instrumental as Chelsea’s near-impenetrable defence masterminded them to back-to-back Premier League titles. The Englishman became a rock under Mourinho, and comfortably one of the best in his position in the world, certified by being named in the 2005 FIFPro World XI.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 01: Manager Jose Mourinho of Chelsea and John Terry of Chelsea pose with the trophy during the Capital One Cup Final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

4. Wesley Sneijder

One of several who benefitted from his guise at Inter, Sneijder unearthed new levels with the help of Mourinho. The creative lynchpin knitting together attack and defence from midfield, Mourinho lifted the Dutchman towards the best spell of his career in 2009/10, proving integral as Inter wrapped up a historic treble. Sneijder has since waxed lyrical about Mourinho and his methods, which saw him come mightily close to lifting the Ballon d’Or in 2010.

3. Diego Milito

Always a consistent enough goal scorer in Italy, Milito was a striker that still went largely unnoticed in the ring of Europe’s top forwards. He hadn’t really had the opportunity at a top side despite having such a good record before signing for Inter in 2009, and boy did he make the move count. Under Mourinho’s watch, he exploded, scoring the winner in the Coppa Italia against Roma, securing the Scudetto against Siena and scoring twice against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. The peak of the Argentine’s career, inspired by the Portuguese master.

ROME – MAY 05: Diego Milito (L) and head coach Jose Mourinho of Inter Milan celebrate after the Tim Cup final between FC Internazionale Milano and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico on May 5, 2010 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

2. Samuel Eto’o

In order to accommodate Milito as the lone striker, Eto’o – already a world renowned, elite striker – had to become a left winger during Mourinho’s time at Inter. He thrived there. Having won a treble with Barcelona in the season prior, signing for Inter in 2009 saw Eto’o become the first player to win back-to-back European continental trebles, setting up the second for Milito in the Champions League final. Eto’o has since explained how he was only ever willing to play as a left winger for Mourinho, as a sign of just how much he trusted and respected the manager.

1. Didier Drogba

The blueprint. Mourinho fell in love with Drogba as manager of Porto while the Ivorian was making strides with Marseille. Upon arriving to Chelsea, with a chequebook now as strong as anyone’s, Mourinho convinced the Blues to pay a club-record fee to bring Drogba to Stamford Bridge in 2004. It was a masterstroke.

Drogba was often unplayable, be it running at defenders or playing with his back to goal, and was the man that fired Chelsea to back-to-back Premier Leagues with Mourinho, as well as countless other pieces of silverware. Now a club legend and their fourth highest scorer, Mourinho signed him for Chelsea again in 2014, and won the league with him again. Incredible.

VALENCIA, SPAIN – APRIL 09: Chelsea Coach Jose Mourinho (L) shares a joke with striker Didier Drogba during Chelsea training and press conference ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Valencia, at the Stadium Mestalla on April 9, 2007 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’ll start with an easy one. Did Jose Mourinho really say this? “I’m European champion. I’m not one out of the bottle, I think I’m a special one”

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