Maniche’s relationship with Jose Mourinho did not exactly get off to the best of starts, but when the pair worked together at the second of three clubs, Porto, it’s fair to say that early hassle all became worth it.
Maniche, or Nuno Ricardo de Oliveira Ribeiro to give him his full name, played in six different countries, won Serie A with Inter, and helped Portugal to the 2000 Euro final and the 2006 FIFA World Cup semi-finals, but the highlight of his career undoubtedly came in 2004 when he was part of Mourinho’s Porto team which incredibly won the Champions League.
And Mourinho was such a crucial figure in Maniche’s career that he wrote the preface of his new autobiography, ‘Maniche 18’.
“Nobody knows me better than Mourinho, not just as a player but on a personal level too,” Maniche says.
“I had the privilege of being trained by him in three different clubs, he helped me massively throughout my career, and in the preface of my autobiography he described me as ‘the sweet rebel’ which shows how much he knows me so well.”
It all began when Mourinho took his first managerial job at Benfica in September 2000, stepping up from his role as assistant to replace Jupp Heynckes at the age of just 27.
He had left by December, but in his short time in charge he saw Maniche, just five years his junior, shown red cards twice. After the second sending off, Mourinho phoned his assistant to order the midfielder to run laps around the pitch.
It drove Maniche furious, but the next day at training Mourinho gave him an inspirational speech that turned the course of their relationship upside down. Within a few weeks, the midfielder’s attitude had changed drastically and he was named Benfica’s captain.
“At the beginning it was not easy because we both had identical personalities, we just had that massive desire to win,” Mancihe says.
“With my character and hard work, I showed in training that I was better than my colleagues, but to be honest the most important reason was how I performed in the matches, doing my job.”
Mourinho quit Estadio do Sport Lisboa after just nine games when the president refused to extend his contract, and he was soon proving the folly of that decision, taking over minnows União de Leiria and, through a combination of meticulous attention to detail and wonderful man-management skills, he had the minnows competing at the top end, at one point ahead of both Porto and Benfica.
And after just over half a season in charge, in January 2002 his virtuoso performances earned him a spot at the head of the boys in blue and white strips.
And with Maniche’s honeymoon period with Benfica now long gone, he was soon offered the chance of a reunion with his former coach at Porto.
“After I became the captain, the president all of the sudden tried to force me into signing a five-year contract with the club under conditions that I didn’t want, so I refused.
“Mourinho moved to Porto and asked me to sign a contract under more favourable conditions, and the rest is history.”
"Numa final de pré-época contra o PSG, fomos a penáltis e faltava alguém para marcar o quinto. O Maniche disse que marcava, mas já tinha sido substituído. Ele disse-me que o árbitro não dava conta disso. Tirou o fato de treino e marcou o golo da vitória."
– José Mourinho pic.twitter.com/qNWM8Vigek
— Conferência de Imprensa (@conferenciapt) February 4, 2019
Indeed. Despite his lack of playing time in his final season with Benfica, Maniche shattered expectations of a transitional period at the Dragão Stadium, playing a crucial role in Mourinho’s first treble as Porto won the Primeira Liga, Taca de Portugal and the UEFA Cup.
“I had a tough time at Benfica but with enough determination I was able to overcome that,” Maniche says.
“It is not easy to be a player without playing the important games, but I was fortunate enough to find an ambitious group with hunger to win.
“All the players had high quality, the team had a lot of spirit, but more importantly we had the needed confidence and character to win what we won.”
Winning three titles in your first full season as a manager is remarkable, especially as the club lifted their first ever UEFA Cup title, but what followed the next year was just plain ridiculous as Mourinho led Porto to the 2003-04 Champions League title.
“At the start nobody thought we could achieve that,” Maniche says, “because all the Champions League winners were clubs more powerful and on a financial level much higher than Porto, but the games are played on the pitch, we were better there and we managed to win our matches.”
Porto’s journey in the Champions League started in a group with Real Madrid, Olympique Marseille and FK Partizan in which they suffered only one defeat and finished in second place, but it was the last-16 victory over Manchester United that really provided Maniche and his team-mates with the belief they could go all the way.
“Our goal was to get as far as possible in the competition, but after defeating Manchester United we started to believe we can actually win this thing,” Maniche says.
“It was insane, just unforgettable. It’s an unbelievable honour to triumph with the title every player in Europe hopes to win one day.”
United actually scored first in the first leg in Portugal, but Benni McCarthy bagged a brace to give the Dragons a lead to take to Manchester.
Still, United only needed one goal and a clean sheet to qualify, and when Paul Scholes fired them ahead, few would have expected them to fail from that position.
But when Tim Howard made a mess of dealing with McCarthy’s late-free-kick, Costinha smashed the ball into the net, granting Porto their ticket to the quarter-final and sparking that memorable Mourinho celebration.
Not that he ever doubted they could win, according to Maniche.
“Mourinho simply told us that we can win this if we maintained our calm and stayed patient throughout the different phases of the game.
“He kept stressing on the fact that we had to have the ball as much as we could, but to be honest in these games speeches don’t matter, everyone knows the importance of the game, without your own belief that you could win this, there is no possible speech that could turn things around!
“When we arrived back in Porto from Manchester we had to celebrate with our fans. It was just a beautiful, sleepless night. It’s a day that I will always keep recalling and will forever be stuck in memory.”
Explaining his role in Porto’s success that season, Maniche suggests his main job was to stop the opposition, but in the quarter-finals against Lyon he was the hero, scoring twice in the away leg to help them into the semi-finals.
“In the Champions League we used to play with a 4-4-2 formation so my role was to deny the opposition on my flank from causing any threats, and on the counter to play near Deco, exploiting spaces, playing quick one-two passes.
“It was a fantastic night (at Lyon), I’ll never forget this game.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult match, but it was within our reach because we had a lot of confidence in who we were and those two goals that I scored gave us the calmness we needed to reach victory.”
And they followed it up, of course, with victory over a Deportivo de La Coruna side that had made a historic comeback against AC Milan and then a comfortable 3-0 win over Didier Deschamps’ Monaco in the final as Porto became the only side since 1995 to win the Champions League from outside England, Italy, Spain and Germany.
“Football players work hard every day trying to achieve titles, I did my best and managed to win the most prestigious trophy in the world,” Maniche says. “It’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
And so will everyone else who witnessed history that season.
By Ramez Nathan