There is no doubt Jose Mourinho leaves an indelible mark wherever he goes. Just ask followers of Porto, the team he guided to UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League glory in successive seasons, or Chelsea, with whom he masterminded back-to-back Premier League triumphs. Nor must we forget his exploits with Inter Milan, who became Italian and European champions last season under the Portuguese's guidance.
Now at the helm of Real Madrid, where he has been charged with ending Barcelona’s La Liga dominance, the 47-year-old made time for a full and frank interview with FIFA.com.
Don’t miss the second part of this interview, scheduled for Tuesday 23 November, which includes Mourinho’s views on the upcoming clásico with Barça.
FIFA.com: Jose, how would you define your coaching style? Is the high esteem your former charges hold you in the best calling card you could wish for?
Jose Mourinho: The players miss me and I miss them. I’ve left behind some true friends at my former clubs and that’s something which transcends the game of football. Missing someone and caring about them is normal amongst friends, just as it’s only natural to hope things go well for your former charges, people who you’ve shared a dressing room with and experienced matches together.
Does it bother you when you’re negatively portrayed in certain sections of the media?
Only those who work with me know who I am, while only my friends and my family know me well. Has anybody who knows me ever said any of these things which I’m so freely accused of?
When you were appointed Real coach you said you’d need time to bring your project to fruition, but early results have been impressive. Are you ahead of schedule?
Real Madrid are playing well, I’d even go so far as saying very well in certain games. But my team aren’t the finished product yet, we’ve still got a lot of ground to cover. You can’t build a team overnight as if by magic. We have to work hard day in, day out, while staying humble, professional and enthusiasm. That said, I’m very happy with our performances and the results so far.
Does that mean you won’t be seeking new signings in the January transfer window?
Yes, our big signing in the winter window will be Kaka - he’ll be a fantastic boost for us. How many clubs can sign a ‘Kaka’ in January? There are no players of his calibre on the market.
What role will Zinedine Zidane have now he has returned to the club?
A genius like Zidane needs to stay involved in football and work for Real Madrid. That’s why I suggested to President Florentino Perez that we needed to re-sign him. Now we’re just looking into which role would suit him best and make the most of the footballing knowledge he has. I want him working closely with me and the squad, rekindling the leadership role he had as a player.
Talking of the playing staff at the Bernabeu, who has caught your eye most since you arrived?
I’d most like to highlight the performance of the team as a whole, particularly those players who aren’t such big names. Then you have the charisma of Iker Casillas and the quality of the metronome Xabi Alonso. He’s a player in the Xavi mould and a man who I’m sure could be a great coach once he hangs up his boots, should he so desire. He reminds me of Pep Guardiola during his playing days, when he was like a coach out on the pitch.
Is there anybody else you’d like to mention?
Well, first of all I’d like to single out [Angel] Di Maria. The Argentina international is very young and joined us from Benfica, who are in a much weaker league, but to be honest he’s adapted perfectly. Angel is the nicest surprise I’ve had since arriving, as well as the professionalism and work ethic of players like [Raul] Albiol, [Alvaro] Arbeloa and [Esteban] Granero. All those players work very hard every day to earn a starting place or to play a part coming off the bench, so I can see why Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has faith in them. They’re great pros, the type of men that make a team.
And how would you say Karim Benzema is doing?
Karim has to understand that he’s not playing by himself, that he has to be more of a team player and work really hard, especially in training. He’s doing just that and I’m pleased to see how his attitude has changed. He’s starting to get the level of involvement that he deserves. I expect a lot from him, I want him to be as good as or better than the player I first saw at Lyon. I know how gifted he is and that’s why I push him.
Given Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira’s relative lack of big-club experience, are you satisfied with how they’ve performed?
They’ve got a fantastic attitude, they’re hard workers and they’re always willing to learn. What’s more, they’re two great lads and working with them would be a pleasure for any coach. I haven’t forgotten Joachim Low’s part in their rapid rise to prominence, as he was brave enough to play them at a World Cup despite their youth and inexperience. They should also be grateful to the coaches they had at Werder Bremen and Stuttgart [respectively].
Can Cristiano Ronaldo repeat the form he showed at Manchester United now you’re at the helm?
Cristiano is one of the two best players in the world. That’s indisputable. Some days he’s better than Leo Messi and other days it’s the Argentinian’s turn, but the two of them are a class above. There are too many things being said about him (Ronaldo) that just aren’t true. He’s a great pro who lives and breathes the game so as to perform the best he possibly can.
Squad rotation is very common among head coaches nowadays, but you seem to be an exception to the rule…
A player who works hard and acts like a true professional in his social life can play in every game. I’m convinced of that and can cite a lot of examples from all the teams I’ve coached, such as Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba at Chelsea, or Javier Zanetti and Diego Milito at Inter. Players don’t need to be rotated so long as they’re careful and stay in good shape.
How do you manage to instil teamwork in a squad packed with great individual talents?
It’s very easy to understand: players win games, but teams win trophies.
You have been accused of not giving a high enough priority to players from Real Madrid’s youth system. Is that a fair criticism?
I don’t know any coaches who don’t enjoy giving debuts to young players. Making John Obi Mikel and Lassana Diarra champions of England at the age of 18, giving Carlos Alberto the chance to become the youngest player ever to score in a Champions League final, giving Davide Santon his debut at just over 18 or doing the same for Juan Carlos at Real Madrid, all of which proves that I like to give young players a chance. Every coach wants to bring youth-team players through, but before that can happen you need the youth ranks to work well, you need them to be effective and to supply talented youngsters on a regular basis.
While some coaches stick with their favoured approach come what may, you’ve stated your preference for adapting to the idiosyncrasies of the clubs you join. Is that really how you see things?
Every coach has his own way of working, which is equally worthy of respect. Personally, I like to take into account the footballing idiosyncrasies of the club and country where I’m working. Football culture is very different in England, Italy and Spain, for example. If you want to succeed in different leagues, you have to adopt the cultural characteristics of the league you’re playing in. That way of thinking helped me win titles in Portugal and in my very first seasons in England and Italy. You have to know your opponents and their characteristics well. And how could I not take into account the traditions and pedigree of a team like Real Madrid, who have won the European Cup more times than any other club.
In your opinion, which championship is the best: the Premier League, Serie A or La Liga?
I’d take the excitement and intensity of the Premier League, the technical quality of La Liga and the tactical battles of Italian football. That’s why I always say that I’m a coach who’s enjoyed a wealth of experiences and who has had to grow and develop in many ways.
You worked with both Sir Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal at Barcelona. How did you earn the respect of the current Bayern Munich coach?
Through my personality and footballing expertise. I worked really hard and was totally devoted to my boss, growing and improving every day to match the demands he made of me. I stuck by him, particularly during the tough times, and I was always straight with him and said what I was thinking - even if it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. Louis appreciated that. One day after I’d disagreed with him in a meeting, he said in front of the rest of the assistant coaches that 'Jose is the only one who tells me what he thinks and not what I want to hear'. We’re very good friends nowadays, and it was really hard for me to see how sad he was after the Champions League final [this year]. Van Gaal is a great man and a great coach.
Are you still keen on a return to the Premier League once your Real Madrid contract expires?
I want to go back to the Premier League, no doubt about it, but I’m not in any hurry. Real Madrid are a fascinating club and I really enjoy working here. That’s why I’m just focusing on doing a good job at Madrid, I want to make history here like I did with Porto, Chelsea and Inter. My goal is always to make the fans of my club happy and to improve my players’ self-worth. And I don’t want things to go any differently at Real Madrid.
Why do you think it was so hard for people to understand your desire to coach your native Portugal, when they were going through a difficult period?
I’m pleased because Portugal won those two games and their chances of qualifying for EURO 2012 are back on track. I knew that I’d be able to help, that my presence would bring the excitement and motivation they needed. And when you’ve lived abroad for as many years as I have, you become totally patriotic. I love Portugal even more now than I did before and I just wanted to help out. But anyway, it wasn’t necessary in the end and so I’m doubly pleased, for my country and for myself.