Manchester United, Real Madrid and FC Porto are the only unbeaten top division teams in Europe.
United are undefeated in 26 matches in all competitions. They are the fourth side in Barclays Premier League history to be unbeaten in their opening 13 games of a season. Of the other three, only Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2003/4 went on to win the title. The Reds are still in the Carling Cup, their Champions League win at Bursaspor left them on the verge of qualifying from Group C while they started the season by beating Chelsea in the Community Shield.
Under Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid have played 17 games, winning 13 with four draws. In the Primera Liga leaders Real have won nine and drawn two while they have already qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League after three wins and a draw.
Standing alongside Sir Alex Ferguson and the Special One is Andre Villas-Boas, the rising star of European coaching who has had a sensational start to his first season in charge at FC Porto. With 10 wins and a draw they lead the Portuguese League by 10 points from Benfica and Guimaraes. Like Real, Porto have also secured their place in the next stage of the Champions League.
Villas-Boas, 33, is nicknamed Mourinho II. He was still a teenager when he started working in Porto’s scouting department in the mid-Nineties when Sir Bobby Robson was in charge. The club were impressed by the youngster’s tactical knowledge and his ability to produce scouting reports players could easily digest.
Aged 21, he was appointed as the technical director of the British Virgin Islands FA in 1999, taking charge of the national team for some World Cup qualifiers. After 18 months in the Caribbean he returned to Portugal to coach Porto’s Under-19’s.
In 2002 Mourinho moved to Porto and made Villas-Boas an integral part of his staff, not just at Porto where he won two league titles, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup but later during his successful spells at Chelsea and Inter Milan. By the time he had moved to Stamford Bridge, Villas-Boas’ pre-match scouting reports included personalised DVDs for each player, outlining their next direct opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. It earned him the unofficial title of ‘director of opposition intelligence.’
He ended a seven-year working relationship with Mourinho in the summer of 2009 to become coach of Academica Coimbra in October. Academica were bottom of the league and winless when Villas-Boas took over from Rogerio Goncalves. One local paper described the club as ‘dead.’ By the time the 2009/10 season was over Villas-Boas had breathed life into Academica, leading them to 11th place in the 16-team league and the semi-finals of the Portuguese League Cup, losing to Porto in the Estadio do Dragao. Impressed by his achievements in Coimbra, Porto sacked Jesualso Ferreira despite winning three league titles in four seasons and appointed Villas-Boas in June.
Unsurprisingly Villas-Boas is keen to distance himself from the inevitable comparisons with Mourinho though he concedes the Special One has been “very important” to him. “I am not a clone of anyone,” he said. “I want to leave my mark on this club.”
He could hardly have had a better start. Benfica, the reigning champions, were beaten in the Portuguese Super Cup as Villas-Boas begin his Porto coaching era with a 2-0 victory.
It is only a matter of time before an FWA member links Villas-Boas with a job in the Barclays Premier League.
Manchester United v Wigan Athletic (Barclays Premier League)
Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao (Primera Liga)
Moreirense v FC Porto (Portuguese Cup fourth round).