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Roma's head coach Jose Mourinho speaks to Roma's Romelu Lukaku during a Serie A soccer match between Roma and Empoli

Ranking Jose Mourinho’s most loyal soldiers: Lukaku, Mata, Essien…

Jose Mourinho remains one of football’s most polarising figures. Be it a supporter, a pundit or a player, you tend to either love him or loathe him.

And while even those closest to the Special One will have probably loathed him several times throughout their time together, his most adored players always remain by his side in the end – and there have been a few.

Those who have got on with Mourinho during his time with management have often been relied upon by him more than once. Today, we’re looking at the players who have turned out the most for the Portuguese coach across more than one club.

11. Lassana Diarra

Signed as a youngster in 2005, Diarra was blooded in slowly by Mourinho at Chelsea as he won his second successive Premier League and was named the club’s Young Player of the Season for 2005-06.

He turned into a rotation arm before leaving in search of first-team football in 2007, turning out for Arsenal and Portsmouth before winding up at Real Madrid in 2009.

By 2010, he’d reunited with Mourinho again and while many feared for his future in the capital following the signing of Sami Khedira, Diarra proved his worth again and performed admirably before his 2012 departure. All in, the French international appeared 96 times across two clubs for Mourinho.

10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Before falling out with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Mourinho gave Zlatan the platform to shine at Inter which paved the way for the move in the first place, showcasing the difference between the two managers and the calibre of player they like to work with.

Inter was the beginning of a brilliant relationship between two fierce characters. Ibrahimovic turned out 100 times in total for Mourinho at Inter and later Manchester United when he signed for free in 2016, scoring 58 goals under the Special One and winning a Scudetto, a Europa League and the EFL Cup all in all.

9. Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Mkhitaryan got off to a rocky start under Mourinho at United, getting hooked at half-time in his first Premier League start – the Manchester derby.

But things would pick up, enjoying a prolific second half to his first season at the club and impressing particularly in the Europa League, where he scored in the final against Ajax.

Things fizzled out the season after and he was the makeweight in that infamous Alexis Sanchez swap deal, but Mkhitaryan did link up with Mourinho again at Roma and started the Europa Conference League final before leaving for Inter. 107 appearances under Mourinho is impressive.

8. Juan Mata

It’s strange to see Mata in a list such as this considering it was Mourinho who sanctioned his 2014 sale to Manchester United, just months after being crowned Chelsea’s Player of the Year for a second time.

But when the two reunited in Manchester in 2016, Mourinho would ultimately call upon the Spaniard often. United fans still feel like he was wasted on the right flank for much of his time at the club, but he could still always be relied upon for a hard-working performance, even if he didn’t feel like a traditional Mourinho player physically.

117 appearances under him certainly suggests the Portuguese coach did grow to like him.

7. Michael Essien

Making 147 appearances under Mourinho, Chelsea parted with £24.4million to make a then-22-year-old Essien the most expensive African player of all time in 2005 after a saga that rumbled on throughout the summer.

A year later, Essien was one of Mourinho’s most trusted soldiers and being nominated for the 2006 Ballon d’Or. Injuries disrupted his later years at Stamford Bridge and an influx of managers after Mourinho left saw several midfielders come and go.

He eventually reunited with the man who signed him in 2012, when he secured a loan switch to Real Madrid. He dedicated his second and final Real goal on the last day of the season to Mourinho.

6. Chris Smalling

Smalling seemed to spend years fading in and out of form before Jose Mourinho’s 2016 arrival, where he capitalised on a solid spell under Louis van Gaal and turned into one of United’s most reliable players for a period of three years or so.

That start blossomed in Rome, where the two reunited upon Mourinho’s arrival in 2021 and won the Europa Conference League together. 188 appearances and counting, and four honours together so far. Monstrous.

5. Paulo Ferreira

In typical Mourinho fashion, Ferreira was converted from a right-midfielder to a right-back while the pair worked together at Porto and was his go-to man in a number of their biggest games together.

The 2004 Champions League final felt like the icing on the cake, but then Mourinho brought Ferreira with him to Chelsea that summer, where he remained until 2013, despite being blighted by injury issues as the years progressed. He made a monstrous 212 appearances for Mourinho across two clubs.

4. Romelu Lukaku

It’s 83 appearances and counting for Lukaku, but along with that number comes 39 goals and – crucially – three clubs where he’s played for the Special One.

The pair never quite aligned at Chelsea, but Mourinho spent an initial £75million to bring Lukaku to United in 2017 where he scored 27 goals in all competitions in his first season.

Lukaku’s career since then has had a bit of everything, from success with Inter to a nightmare return to Chelsea. Mourinho offered him a lifeline this summer, though, and he’s repaying it big time.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho with the Europa League trophy after his team beat Ajax at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. 24 May 2017.

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3. Maniche

Maniche and Mourinho worked together three times, but not quite in the order you’d expect.

The pair first worked with one another at Benfica, although this was in the infancy of Maniche’s career. He was then sold to Porto to reunite with the boss in 2002.

Strangely, after finding success with Mourinho at Porto, Maniche’s next move was to Dynamo Moscow in 2005. But when that didn’t work out, he was loaned to Chelsea in January 2006 and quickly helped another Mourinho side to another trophy.

2. Nemanja Matic

Matic’s return to Chelsea in 2014 came under the tutelage of Mourinho, also in his second spell with the club. Together, the pair won the Premier League in 2014-15 and Matic blossomed into one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe – of course.

He remained at Stamford Bridge following Mourinho’s second departure, but not for long as the manager signed him for United in 2017. He immediately became vital for the Red Devils and stuck around until 2022, before signing for – you guessed it – Mourinho’s Roma on a free transfer.

1. Ricardo Carvalho

It’s going to take something special to dethrone Carvalho from the top spot. The Portuguese defender made 293 appearances under Mourinho across three clubs throughout his glistening career.

His most trusted soldier by some distance, Carvalho was one of the shining lights of Mourinho’s success at Porto before following him to Chelsea and striking up a colossal partnership with John Terry that kept 25 Premier League clean sheets in 2004-05.

The Blues kept hold of Carvalho until 2010, before Real came calling at the request of the Special One. His first season was again a major success; he played a huge part in locking up the club’s defence, but as injuries picked up, Carvalho’s influence began to wane and by the end of the 2012-13 campaign, he was let go at the end of his contract.

Still, that doesn’t tell the full story of a truly formidable working relationship.


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