Jose Mourinho is facing an unsettling new reality in the Champions League as Manchester United launch their campaign at Young Boys of Bern on Wednesday.
Mourinho was once the Champions League’s pre-eminent force, winning the tournament twice and making the latter stages virtually every year.
But it is four years since the Portuguese coach last managed a victory in the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition.
In that time, the 55-year-old has been surpassed by Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone and former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane as the tournament’s most innovative and successful coaches.
In Mourinho’s past 10 knockout games with United and Chelsea in the Champions League he has just two wins and five draws — his last away victory in the knockout stages came at United’s expense in 2013 when he was still at Real Madrid.
Mourinho’s decline as a Champions League force mirrors the fading challenge of United, who reached three finals in four seasons from 2008 but have struggled to make an impact since.
The club are preparing for the match against the Swiss champions in Bern after an unsettling start to the season but might feel they have turned a corner after a hard-fought 2-1 win against Watford in the Premier League.
Mourinho, in an upbeat mood after Saturday’s second straight win, will be desperate to erase the memory of United’s spineless last-16 exit against Sevilla last season, during which frustrated United fans chanted “attack, attack, attack” at their own players.
The limp defeat was a far cry from the days when free-flowing United sides won two European Cups under Alex Ferguson and regularly reached the sharp end of the tournament.
The desperate message from the stands that night left Mourinho looking a forlorn figure on the same turf where he had announced his arrival on the Champions League stage with a jubilant touchline jig during Porto’s shock win 14 years previously.
Back then, Mourinho had the world at his feet and he would go on to win the competition for the first time as Porto demolished Monaco in the 2004 final.
Mourinho’s move to Chelsea launched the ‘Special One’ brand as he entranced English football with his brash attitude and a dazzling first flush of success.
But Premier League titles did not translate into more glory in the Champions League as Chelsea were twice knocked out by Liverpool in the 2005 and 2007 semi-finals.
– Anguish –
Mourinho found the magic again at Inter Milan, knocking out Chelsea and Barcelona and beating Bayern Munich 2-0 in the final to deliver the club’s first European Cup for 45 years.
The Portuguese was just the third manager to win the competition with two clubs and, joining Real Madrid just days later, he appeared to be in the ideal place to add to his personal collection.
But a semi-final loss to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2011 was followed by a painful penalty shootout defeat at the same stage against Bayern Munich 12 months later.
And by the time Borussia Dortmund sent Real crashing out in the semi-finals yet again in 2013, Mourinho had begun to lose his aura of invincibility.
Back at Chelsea for the 2013-14 season, Mourinho’s change of scene did not bring of change of luck — this time it was Atletico Madrid who were the tormentors as the manager tasted semi-final anguish for the fourth successive year.
Axed by Chelsea less than a year later, Mourinho took over at United and won the Europa League in his first season.
But maintaining his flawless European final record was not a springboard for Champions League glory last term.
With memories of that Sevilla capitulation still fresh, Mourinho will head to Bern looking for a positive start to his redemption tour.