Steven Watt didn’t spend long working under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea – but it was more than long enough for the Portuguese to leave a lasting impression.
Watt was a young defender yet to make his senior debut when Mourinho took over at Stamford Bridge in 2004, but he was heavily involved with the first-team squad in that 2004-05 season as fifth-choice centre-back.
The Scot made his debut in January in the FA Cup before getting a couple of minutes in the Premier League on the final day of the season, and though he acknowledges he may have got more of a chance at a different club at the time, Watt is grateful for the opportunities he was given.
And, speaking on episode three of our new 2000s football podcast The Broken Metatarsal, Watt says Mourinho always made him feel a valued member of the squad.
“He always wanted two players for every position, so four centre-halves. I was always fifth choice with very good players ahead of me. I knew my future probably didn’t lie there because of the quality and the size of the club and I wasn’t good enough to break in and stay there.
“But I knew he had my back. I felt that when I played for him and even travelling to Champions League games and being involved.
“As long as you go out on a Saturday and give everything you could for him, he was happy.
“He was the type of person who you just warmed to and wanted to do well for, and I think that’s a big reason for why he’s been as successful as he has.”
And when it came to letting Watt know he was to make his debut, in the FA Cup against Scunthorpe, Mourinho went about it in a completely different way to most managers.
“It was the most bizarre conversation,” Watt remembers. “I was stood in the queue to get my lunch and I got a tap on my shoulder. It was the boss and he said, ‘Steven, have you got any plans this weekend?’
“I said no and he said, ‘Do you want to play for me?’ I said okay and he walked off.
“The way he went about it with a young kid, it was just relaxed. There was no big meeting. And because he did it like that I just treated it like any other game.
“The way he approached it was brilliant. He must think about what he’s doing. Method to the madness. I’ll never forget that day when I got tapped on the shoulder.”
• • • •
• • • •
Mourinho arrived at Chelsea on the back of winning the Champions League with Porto and having made a particular impression in England for his touchline run at Old Trafford when knocking out Manchester United.
He then announced himself in his first press conference as “the Special One”, but Watt says he needed no time to get the players on board at Stamford Bridge.
“You don’t judge someone until you’ve worked with them and you’ve spoken to them face to face to get a feel for them,” Watt says.
“As soon as he came in, the way he was, everyone bought into him straight away, there were no question marks over him from the squad at all.
“He was honest, he was up front, he knew what he wanted, he had a very good sense of humour, and he was just a manager you wanted to play for, and that was from day one. He gave off a good vibe.
“Every player was on board with him and gave everything for him as a manager.”
Watt may only have spent one full season working for Mourinho, but he has a lifetime of stories to tell, including being in the tunnel for that famous bust-up between Chelsea and Barcelona at the Nou Camp and then being part of the squad for the even more famous game against Bayern when Mourinho hid in a laundry basket to get around his stadium ban.
“I always say if I’d gone somewhere else I wouldn’t have been part of these Champions League nights.
“I was in the tunnel against Barcelona when it all kicked off.
“I don’t know how it all started, but you just try to get between people and get it to stop. Then you go into the changing room and Mourinho says to Drogba at half-time, ‘You will get sent off tonight, do not touch anyone.’ Then he gets sent off after 5-10 minutes.
“You look back and chuckle where you’re at in your life now, thinking at one stage I was warming up in the Nou Camp and then involved in breaking up a scuffle between staff at half-time. Now I’m manager at Hythe on step five of non-league football.
“You just laugh to yourself.
• • • •
• • • •
“For the Bayern game, he was in the changing room hours and hours before kick-off then locked in the kit room when they came in and checked it.
“Then he popped out, did his bit before the game, then got locked back in when they came and checked again. It was quite comical.
“Then before the end of the game they put him in one of the baskets and wheeled him down to Chelsea World of Sport I think where it came out he’d been watching the game, but he’d been in the changing room the whole time watching it communicating.
“It was brilliant times looking back.”
Watt also recalls a time when the players taped the masseur, Billy McCulloch, to Mourinho’s chair in his office and the manager simply “wheeled him out and wheeled him down the corridor and left him”.
And you can listen to Watt on that story and many more from his time spent with Mourinho in episode three of The Broken Metatarsal, which you can listen to below.