Barring any unforeseen twists in the tale, José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix will soon return to his adoring British public with a second stint as manager of Chelsea. While the return of the "Special One" (© Mourinho J) will largely be a matter for celebration in south-west London, there's also a huge and ready constituency nationwide, licking their lips in anticipation of more fun from this much-loved pantomime villain, currently serving his last days at Real Madrid.

And, boy, does he need to get away from Madrid. On Friday night, Mourinho described this season as the "worst" of his career, following a 2-1 Copa del Rey defeat to city rivals Atlético. This came at the end of a season in which he had been feuding, it seems, with almost all of the Real squad, and kept Iker Casillas, the Spanish goalkeeper – chief feudee – on the bench for much of the time. Well, he's always enjoyed a drama.

For most of us, our first Mourinho Moment came in March 2004, when his Porto team scored a last-minute goal at Old Trafford, to send Manchester United crashing out of the Champions League. Dramatic as Costinha's winner was, it paled next to the unbridled celebrations of his manager. Mourinho ran the length of the touchline before sliding to his knees – to scowls of disdain from Alex Ferguson – and pumping his fist at the shell-shocked crowd. It was to be the first salvo in a decade of lively encounters between the two.

José Mourinho was born 50 years ago in the port city of Setúbal, 30 miles south of Lisbon. Football was in his blood. His father, Felix, was capped by Portugal and Mourinho played to a middling level at Belenenses and Rio Ave. Yet it was coaching that caught his imagination. He went to Lisbon's Polytechnic of Physical Education, where he studied sports science and, on graduating, started out on a familiar route into soccer management, coaching Vitoria's youth team back in Setúbal.

The 1992 arrival of Bobby Robson as manager of Sporting Lisbon was, by common consent, the game-changer for Mourinho. Starting out as his translator, he quickly earned Robson's respect for the intense detail of his preparatory notes. When Robson left for Porto, then Barcelona, he took his trusted match analyst with him, a journey that ended with promotion, when Mourinho took over as Porto coach in 2002. On arrival, he wrote a letter of welcome – a mission statement – to every member of his squad. It began: "From here on in, each practice, each game, each minute of your social life must centre on the aim of being champions…"

In his first season, Porto won the Portuguese league and the Uefa Cup, winning the league again the following year – and then came that memorable 2004 Champions League run. After dispatching Manchester Utd, Porto went on to win the competition outright, an achievement that brought Mourinho to the attention of Roman Abramovich.

If we'd thought his Old Trafford celebration was entertaining, it was as nothing compared to his first interview in the Chelsea hot seat. He said that his predecessor, the well-liked Claudio Ranieri, had deserved the sack for "failing". He said that he, too, would expect the sack if he were to fail, but for Mourinho, failure was inconceivable. Why? Because he was special.

"Please don't call me arrogant. I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one."

Mourinho had spoken. The Special One was born.

And he was special, or at least different. He set his stall out from the offset, eschewing the arriviste Surrey lifestyle of his Chelsea squad. Rather than an off-plan Oxshott monster-mansion, he moved his family to an elegant Eaton Terrace townhouse in south-west London. Mourinho embraced the capital immediately and fully, defying Ron Manager stereotypes by dining at San Lorenzo and taking his young family to the zoo, the theatre, the galleries.

It didn't harm Mourinho's stock, either, that he was so easy on the eye. A classically handsome Iberian, he looked just as good in his training gear as he did in his immaculately tailored suits. ITV chief Kevin Lygo, whose children attended the same school as Mourinho's, recalls with amusement the frisson when Mourinho would arrive to collect his kids – and that was just the men. With his soulful, slightly baggy eyes, the Special One was acutely aware of his own magnetism, an asset he's put to excellent commercial use over the years. He even licensed his trademark stubble to Braun shavers.

Yet there was never, would never be any prospect of his making the gossip columns. A huge part of Mourinho's brand, and his value, is his clear and present devotion to his family.

Mourinho is also supremely skilled at manipulating the media and enraging the opposition – players, supporters and managers alike. With one well-timed soundbite, he would set the cat among the pigeons. Coming to Chelsea the summer after Arsenal had gone a whole season unbeaten, Mourinho said: "Look at the way your teams play against Arsenal. They don't believe they can win."

The emphasis on "your" and "they" was genius, implying that he, an outsider, was about to show the Premier League how it should be done. It worked a treat. The usually phlegmatic Arsène Wenger allowed himself to be drawn into a slanging match, commenting on any and every Chelsea slip-up. This apparent obsession led Mourinho to label him a "voyeur". He added: "He likes to watch other people. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea."

Another great foe has been Rafa Benítez. To this day, Mourinho refers to the defining moment of the 2005 Champions League semi-final when Liverpool won with "the ghost goal" that might or might not have crossed the line. There's a school of thought that this bullish, antagonistic persona is just that – a mask, a smokescreen, carefully cultivated to take the pressure away from his players so they can fully focus on the task in hand.

In doing so, he creates a siege mentality that is predicated on loyalty to the crown – that crown being worn, of course, by the Special One. There's a counter-argument that Mourinho craves the limelight and is addicted to praise, describing all his teams and their achievements as Me, My and Mine.

What's for sure is that he's a Machiavellian operator who picks his spats as adroitly as he picks his teams. Having incensed Alex Ferguson in 2004, Mourinho was quick to realise it had been a Pyrrhic victory. He began to court Ferguson, buttering him up with praise and playing to his self-image as a man of superior taste, fond of fine wine, something of which the Portuguese knew a little, too. (He is honorary president of a collective dedicated to ousting the screw-top wine bottle.)

There was method to his acting, of course. After being sacked by Abramovich in 2007, Mourinho regularly spoke of his desire to land another "top job" in England. And, for all that he'd continue to call Chelsea "my boys" (usually after a win), Mourinho was solicitous in his praise of Manchester United, their "legend" and, particularly, Ferguson. He as good as treated this year's Champions League match between the clubs as an open audition, praising his venerable opponent.

Madrid won and Mourinho was well aware that Ferguson himself would have a huge say in the anointment of his successor.

There's something irresistible in the notion that the wily Ferguson was on to Mourinho all along. He was all too aware that the faithful dad and husband was a serial adulterer when it came to football clubs. That the same devout family man who raised £25,000 for Tsunami Relief and donated his Uefa Ballon D'Or to the Bobby Robson Trust in 2011 is also the man who poked Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova in the eye then ran away; who boasted of his €15,000,000 salary to the Italian media; who is regularly censured and sent to the stands for his outbursts; and who sprinted down the Old Trafford touchline, pumping his fist at the crowd.

Mourinho is all these things and more. He's a narcissist. He's a sore loser. He's pathologically loyal to "his boys". He's a born winner. Above all else, though, the comment you always hear said of Mourinho is that he's "a breath of fresh air". He would guarantee great copy, give great headline, ruffle a few feathers, then go home to the wife and kids. Welcome back. We've been expecting you.