Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho knows what it takes to be the best. He reached the pinnacle of his profession in 2010, when he was named the FIFA World Coach of the Year, and has a clean sweep of the biggest club trophies in world football. FIFA.com spoke to the Portuguese maestro on a range of topics, including the upcoming The Best FIFA Football Awards™, his country’s miraculous achievements as a seeming underdog, and his take on the potential expansion of the FIFA World Cup™.
The Best FIFA Football Awards are taking place on Monday 9 January in Zurich. What criteria do you use to evaluate the qualities of a player?
Honestly, I’m not too big a fan of individual awards. Football is a team sport. Teams win matches, and players are not as important as teams. Media and fans love it, managers not so much because there is some contradiction between what we work for and the individual award. However, media and fans are very important in the game, so I am not against the individual awards. There are of course special players, with such talent that they can make teams and fellow players better. These kind of players can influence a style of play or a team dynamic. For me, these are the special players. I just feel that, with the awards, the focus is exaggerated somewhat... one week after the ceremony, the campaign for next year has already begun.
In 2010, you were named FIFA World Coach of the Year. What did it mean to you to reach the pinnacle of your profession?
It was such an honour, especially because it will stay in history as the first FIFA award for a coach. However, again I must repeat that I’m a team man and 2010 wasn’t, for me, the year of my FIFA award. It was the year of my treble with Internazionale. It wasn’t Mourinho’s season, it was Inter’s and the Interisti’s season. That’s the way I feel about my job.
The Best FIFA Men's Coach will be announced at the awards. Claudio Ranieri, Fernando Santos and Zinedine Zidane are in the running. Who would you choose to win, and why?
I think all three deserve to be there because they won important trophies: [Zinedine] Zidane the Champions League, Fernando [Santos] the EURO and Claudio [Ranieri] the Premier League. I am friends with all of them, so I would be happy with any outcome. Ranieri performed a miracle, Fernando made a dream come true and Zidane won the Champions League.
For the first time, fans have a say in the player and coach awards, with their votes making up 25 per cent of the decision. How important is it to include fans in such important decisions?
Fans are very important. I would say football fans make our game the most important sport on the planet. However, when a fan votes, they vote for their team, which means that the big clubs’ fan base will always be pushing and promoting their players. I can also say, because I worked in four different countries, that different nationalities view the awards in different ways. The press from different countries promote their people with different levels of emotion and commitment.
If you compare football now to the turn of the century, the year 2000, what have been the biggest changes in the way football is played at the highest level?
It’s difficult to compare periods, players, generations. It isn’t really fair. The end product is different but the tools to create it are different too. People could argue that football is faster now, right? Yes, it is. But aren’t the balls lighter, the boots amazing and the training sessions much more scientific? Do the players now play more matches and have little time to rest? Yes, but now clubs have high level conditions to accelerate their recovery process, to prevent injuries. While I follow the evolution, I respect the past.
What footballing characteristics, for both teams and players, are specific to the English Premier League
English football demands passion. The whole country demands that players are in love with the game, in love with their job. It demands top professionals in their approach to their job. The qualities can be different, but the English demand passion.
Portugal, with a population of just ten million people, is the European champion and has some of the best players and coaches all over the world. How do you explain that?
It’s difficult to believe! Eusebio, Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, myself have won top awards and maybe Fernando will too. Benfica and Porto have won European titles and Portugal won the EURO. A little country with a view of the Atlantic, it’s incredible. Our passion is perhaps our secret.
The World11 will be announced at the awards, a line-up decided by over 25,000 professional players across the globe. If you could pick a Mourinho11, of players you've coached in your career, who would make the starting line-up?
It’s an answer that I’ve always refused to give and will continue to. So many players gave their blood and soul when they played for me, how can I name some and forget others? Vitor Baia, Petr Cech, Julio Cesar... how can I choose just one? Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Marco Materazzi, Lucio, Walter Samuel, John Terry… how can I choose one? Michael Essien, Wesley Sneijder, Nemanja Matic, Costinha, Maniche, Xabi Alonso, Frank Lampard … how can I choose one? I don’t think I will ever answer that question because I’ll never forget my brothers in arms.
In May you were part of the ‘think tank’ session at the FIFA Congress to discuss football matters. How important is the involvement of former players and coaches in decision-making?
I think players, referees and managers are fundamental. Their level of experience, their experience after many minutes on the pitch and their opinions are a massive plus to the evolution of the game. It was an especially great decision by President Infantino to include former players. These stars are the history of the game and I like how the President shows that they are crucial to the future of the game.
One of the matters discussed during this session was the expansion of the World Cup. What are your thoughts regarding the potential format expansion?
I’m totally in favour. As a club manager, if the expansion meant more games, less holidays and less pre-season for players, I would say no. But it’s important for critics to analyse and understand that expansion doesn’t mean more matches. Players are protected and clubs are protected in this way. I prefer groups of three. Two matches and then through to the knock-out stages or go home (Editor’s note: one of the World Cup expansion proposals is for 48 teams in 16 groups of three sides). This way, the two group matches are crucial, then the knock-out stage is next which brings even more emotion. Teams with less potential and experience will probably play two matches and go home. But they would do so having improved and gained experience on the pitch, which would be added to the economic rewards of appearing at the finals - including further investment in their footballing infrastructure.
The expansion means that the World Cup will be even more of an incredible social event. More countries, more investment in different countries in infrastructure, in youth football. More nations taking part means more passion, more happiness, more enthusiasm. More countries means more Africans, Asians, Americans together. Football is developed in the clubs, so we can’t expect football to explode in terms of quality at a World Cup. The World Cup is a social event and football can’t relinquish this opportunity to further reflect fans’ passion.
What is your view on the Video Assistant Referee system?
We all need it. Professionals can’t lose or win matches and titles because of a refusal of this evolution. Sponsors, owners and investors must feel that technology is there. Also, referees especially need and deserve protection. They need the technology to help them, protect them and to support them.