Exclusive – ‘Powerful’ Man United fans can drive club forward, insists Mourinho

first_img1 Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho This article appeared in talkSPORT’s sister print publication, Sport magazine. It’s weekly, it’s free and it’s brilliant. More details here: sport-magazine.co.ukJose Mourinho talks exclusively to Sport about his return to the Premier League, his love of English football and his lofty ambitions with Manchester United.He couldn’t stay away long. Just 162 days after his departure from Stamford Bridge, a second title-winning era at Chelsea brought to an early end in December, Jose Mourinho was on May 27 confirmed once more as a Premier League manager. He had packed away his blue scarf, however, and replaced it with red: Manchester was the destination, and United the team.“I like the unpredictability of every match,” the 53-year-old tells Sport, when we ask what still attracts him to England. “In many countries, the big clubs don’t want that. The big clubs want to get fatter and fatter and fatter, and they want the other ones to be skinny and skinny and skinny.“In these countries, the big clubs want to know for sure that they are going to be champions. That they are going to be in the Champions League. In England, you want exactly the opposite – you want to share, want every team to be powerful, to be able to buy, to refuse to sell. You want every team to be competitive. This is your league.“I could go to another league, which I did before. I went to Italy, to Spain. But every league is different, and this one is special.”If Mourinho feels any need to go on the charm offensive after the indisputable nightmare of last season, then this is a politic place to start. What better way of explaining Chelsea’s lowest finish in 20 years, not to mention the worst championship defence in Premier League history, than by praising the strength in depth and competitiveness of top-flight football in England? The hair may be a little more silver than it was when he first burst into our game more than a decade ago, but the mind operating beneath it would appear as acutely sharp as ever.Portuguese man of prideIn truth, Mourinho cuts a genuinely relaxed figure when we meet him in the low-key but elegant surroundings of a regular United haunt he will come to know well in his time at Old Trafford: Manchester’s Lowry Hotel. He is a willing poser, chatting enthusiastically about his daughter’s passion for photography without once casting an impatient glance at the imposing watch adorning his wrist. He is also a proud Portugal supporter, still on a high after watching his nation become kings of Europe for the first time this summer.“I enjoyed it so much,” he says of Portugal’s extra-time victory over hosts France in the Euro 2016 final. “I was celebrating in my pyjamas, as everyone could see in my Instagram – but, you know, it’s a country thing. People there have been waiting, and waiting, and it never happened. We got so close in 1966 [when Portugal lost to England in the World Cup semi finals], and we have been close many times, but the victory never was coming.“Then, it finally comes. For a country in love with the sport, for a country doing so much for the sport, but also for a country where from a social and economic point of view we are in trouble, I think this was the right moment for us.”Mourinho has a reputation as a manager interested only in clubs with the bank balance to match his ambition. Taking the reins at Manchester United, a footballing behemoth that has just parted with a world-record £89m to land Paul Pogba – a player they let go for a song only four years ago – would do little to convince anyone otherwise, but it is worth remembering that his two Champions League wins, with Porto and even Inter Milan, were achieved very much as the underdog. The manner in which he speaks of his beloved Portugal underlines his comfort in the role.“I think, outside Portugal, people don’t really have the real image of what the country is,” he explains. “We are a country of just 10 million people, but for some reason we have Eusebio world player of the year, Luis Figo world player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo world player of the year, Mourinho FIFA manager of the year. Benfica were European champions, Porto have been European champions, and now Portugal finally are European champions. This is not normal. We are a little space in the map, but the passion is huge.”England in mindMourinho was born in 1963, less than a year after Benfica won their second European Cup and three before Eusebio inspired Portugal to that historic World Cup semi final. Even as a child, though, his head was turned by England.“I remember always waiting, waiting for the FA Cup final on TV, in black and white,” he recalls with a smile. “As a kid, international matches on television in Portugal were just the European Cup final, UEFA Cup final, Cup Winners’ Cup final at that time, and the FA Cup final.“The FA Cup final – Wembley, the stairs, the small team fighting against a giant and sometimes winning – was magnificent. I always remember being with my father and friends, waiting for it.”There it is again – that appreciation of the underdog. But, importantly, the underdog that wins.“You have periods, as a kid, that you don’t forget,” he continues. “For example, the Nottingham Forest period. European champions twice – you don’t forget that, and for sure I knew the names of the most important players, had some of their pictures. You get used to these generations of dominance; Real Madrid before, then Ajax, and then certainly Forest. They had a real impact on my generation.”If the teenage Mourinho was fascinated by a Forest team managed by one legendary English manager in Brian Clough, then the Mourinho of his late 20s and early 30s developed an unshakeable bond with another great English coach.“The first thing I always remember about Sir Bobby Robson is that he was a very proud Englishman,” he tells us of a man with whom he worked at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and finally Barcelona. “He never stopped speaking about England as a football country. He did miracles with Ipswich Town, but he was very proud of his time as England manager.“He was a great defender of the English football, but he was really in love with the country too. So even when he was getting older and leaving Barcelona, he was always thinking about going back, if possible, to his Newcastle. He was in love with life, in love with his family, in love with English football for sure. Just a fantastic person.”For the first time in our interview, Mourinho’s genial mood gives way to wistfulness. One of the few defining relationships he has developed over a career in football spanning more than two decades clearly means a great deal to him.A different worldMourinho certainly believes in keeping the people he considers his friends close, but the old maxim about keeping your enemies closer most definitely applied to the man whose intimidatingly impressive shoes he has finally come to fill. We take him back to that crazy clash with Sir Alex Ferguson in 2004, when Mourinho’s Porto knocked Ferguson’s United out of the Champions League – a 90th-minute Costinha strike prompting that now infamous charge down the Old Trafford touchline.“Relationship starts bad,” he says, smiling. “Because in [the first leg in] Porto, he was upset with the result [Porto won 2-1] and with Roy Keane’s red card – but I was a football man and I respect that this is the game, so nothing happened. Then, at the end of the second leg, we had an episode that was not normal in our culture.“We were in our dressing room, celebrating like it was the Champions League final – it was only the last 16. There was a knock on the door, and it was the manager and the captain – Sir Ferguson and Gary Neville. They say: ‘Well done, you deserve it, good luck for the future, bye’. In Portugal, this is impossible to happen like this. Everybody looked at each other; we knew this is a different world.“After this episode, we had always a very respectful situation. We were fighting for the title, we were playing so many times against each other. I played United with Madrid, with Inter Milan, with Porto, with Chelsea – FA Cup final, Community Shield, League Cup semi finals. So many times, but always correct. I felt it couldn’t be a different way, because I was dealing with someone from a different world.”Mourinho is part of a very different world now, too. He is one of a handful of elite, marketable super-coaches recognisable by just a first name alone: Jose, Pep, Fabio. As the man behind the Capello Index might like to take on board, however, Mourinho won’t put his name to just anything.“My relationship with Hublot started with me buying Hublot,” he explains when we ask about the ambassadorial role that has enabled our time with him. “I like watches, I buy watches, and I bought Hublot a couple of times. I am attracted by the visual, and I liked the kind of design they traditionally have. This is how it started for me, but then I had the chance to work with them as an ambassador.“That was obviously the start of a commercial relationship, but now it has gone in a completely different direction. We are friends. My personal relations with [Hublot chairman Jean-Claude] Biver and Ricardo [Guadalupe, chief executive] are much more important.”Friday night firstsMore important, at least in the immediate short term, is Mourinho’s first appearance in the Old Trafford home dugout for a Premier League game. It seems appropriate that history is set to be made – tonight’s fixture against Southampton is the Premier League’s first ever ‘Friday Night Football’ – but the Manchester United boss can’t wait.“This is what I like,” he says of his first competitive game in charge at one of football’s great stadiums. “I don’t like the feeling of friendlies. You like to win them, of course. You don’t want to lose, but at the same time you need to try things, play every player, tell them the result doesn’t matter. It is more important to think about other things – injuries, accumulation of fatigue. I do not like this.“What I like is the real competition – so this first home game, Southampton. They won [1-0] last year at Old Trafford, and they are a good team, a stable team. I was in trouble so many times at Old Trafford, feeling the power of the stadium against me – but now I want to feel that power behind my team. The fans can do something for us, so I look forward for that.”The Old Trafford faithful will be more than happy with their team’s start to the season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the scoresheet and Eric Bailly impressing in defence in last weekend’s 3-1 win at Bournemouth. With the aforementioned Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan still to add their significant respective talents to a midfield that had long needed quality reinforcements, the signs are that United will surely challenge for Champions League qualification as a bare minimum. But what does the man in charge believe is possible?“I’m a bit stupid, maybe arrogant, on establishing targets,” he says openly. “The most stupid of all is to say I want to win every match, I want to win every competition. Impossible. Impossible.“But it is a good way to establish targets with the players. We know we are not going to win every game, we know we are not going to win every competition – but let’s still establish that objective, and in the end of the season we will see.“Speaking in a pragmatic way, we need to improve. To change, to transform a team that had certain qualities, certain principles. This takes time, but hopefully not too long because the competition is hard – if you need months and months to bring a team to a positive level, then you lose the first season. I think we are not in condition to lose completely this first season – we must get something.”It is early days in the new job, but so far so good for Mourinho in Manchester. If he seemed sometimes tired of it all towards the end of his second Chelsea reign, then he has returned refreshed and ready for one of football’s greatest challenges. But, really, why would that surprise us?“I was born a player’s son, I grew up a manager’s son,” he reminds us. “Football was in my house, football was in my blood, football was the centre of my universe during all of my youth. I am just one of the lucky guys on the planet who has a job that is also my passion.”hublot.comlast_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *