On Monday 29 November, Real Madrid supremo Jose Mourinho will send his team out to FC Barcelona in one of the most eagerly anticipated clásicos of recent times. A former assistant coach at the Catalan giants, the Portuguese strategist is now charged with striking a blow for Madridistas everywhere and ending the club’s poor recent record against Lionel Messi and Co.
In the second part of an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, ‘The Special One’ touches on a host of topics including this season’s UEFA Champions League field, next Monday’s clásico, the reception he can expect from the Camp Nou faithful and his views on Azulgrana counterpart Pep Guardiola.
Enjoy the first part of this interview by clicking on the link in the right-hand menu.
FIFA.com: Jose Mourinho, do you think your Real Madrid side are in with a chance of reaching the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley?
Jose Mourinho: Yes, but we could get knocked out before that point too. If experience has taught me anything it’s that the Champions League is very difficult, very tough and a competition where every mistake is punished. This year we’ll be aiming to go beyond the Round of 16, a stage which Real Madrid have failed to get past since 2004.
Which rival teams do you think offer the biggest threat on the road to London?
The usual ones: the English sides led by Chelsea and Manchester United, Inter [Milan], Bayern [Munich], Barça... It’s a fearsome competition, it’s really tough. It’s very hard for a team to overcome the odds like we did with Porto in 2004, when we reached the final against another surprise team in Monaco.
You recently returned to the San Siro with Madrid to take on AC Milan. How did it feel to go back there?
It’ll always be special to go to the San Siro, it's just like going to Stamford Bridge where I spent some good years with Chelsea. When I went back there it felt like I was still Chelsea coach, because of the fans, the dressing rooms, the players, the owner, everything... That affection is the nicest part of football, when you can go to a match with the opposing team and still feel at home. It’ll be a special feeling the day I have to go back to the San Siro to take on Inter and it’s packed with Interistas. They already showed they’re still loyal to me when Real Madrid played Milan and they cheered me throughout.
Did you expect Milan to be a tougher proposition?
Milan have got some of the best forwards in European football, but Real Madrid dominated both games (in Group G of this season’s Champions League). We had more possession, we dictated the tempo and we took the initiative. We put in two very complete performances. Last year Real Madrid only took one point from Milan but this season we got four. We’re improving, but my players still need to grow and learn how to handle the mental side of Champions League games.
Why do you think Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t succeed at Barcelona? Did you really want to sign him for Real Madrid?
I don’t know why (he didn’t succeed), it’s none of my business. All I can say is that under me at Inter he finished top scorer in Serie A, he hit 25 goals and I never had any serious problems with him. I’ve got a lot of respect and affection for him and I think he also holds me in high regard. I would have liked to bring him to Real Madrid but it was impossible. After what happened with Luis Figo I think it’ll be centuries before another Barça player joins Madrid or vice versa.
Samuel Eto’o has only good things to say about you. The two of you got along particularly well, but was he among the best forwards you’ve ever coached? And what about Didier Drogba?
Mamma mia, what fantastic players! It was a tremendous pleasure to be able to coach those two goalscoring ‘monsters’, two players with unrivalled killer instinct. They’re two men with an unbreakable spirit and a will to win you’d struggle to find in any other player.
This season’s first clásico against Barcelona is fast approaching. Are your team in a position to go toe-to-toe with them and finish ahead of them in La Liga?
Barça are a great side, a team with a shared group philosophy that goes back years. They’ve got players who’ve spent their whole lives together such as [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi and [Lionel] Messi. Taking them on isn’t easy but we’re working hard to try and be just as strong as they are and overcome them in order to win titles . It’s easier to do in cup competitions. I’ve already beaten them with both Inter and Chelsea.
Can you expand on that notion of a shared group philosophy?
Pep has a settled side, a solid project in place. Their footballing philosophy has been evolving since [Johan] Cruyff (was in charge); it continued under [Louis] Van Gaal and [Frank] Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola has even managed to improve on it. Real Madrid’s playing style, on the other hand, hasn’t been defined yet. Madrid have gone from [ Fabio ] Capello to [ Manuel ] Pellegrini , via [ Bernd ] Schuster and Juande Ramos , and that just won’t work . A club like Real needs to be organised with a fixed playing style from top to bottom, and have a football philosophy all of their own. That’s what we’ve been working on since I arrived.
Has el clásico come too soon for you and your players?
Any player and any coach would like to be involved in a clásico of this magnitude. Barça versus Real Madrid is special; the eyes of the whole world are on this clash. I’d happily play the match tomorrow, it’s always fantastic.
If you were president of a club, would you try and sign Pep Guardiola as head coach?
If I were Barça president Sandro Roselli I’d give him a contract for the next 50 years.
Because he’s a club man who’s been steeped in Barcelonismo since birth. He’s Culé, he knows the place inside out and he knows the kind of football that Barcelona fans want. He’s the ideal man to coach Barcelona for as long as he wants to.
Would he be also your choice if you were Madrid president?
Yes he would, Pep is a great coach. I first said he’d end up being an excellent head coach years ago. Go and look it up and you’ll see that I said that 20 years ago.
How is your relationship with him?
We used to work together at Barça and I have only positive memories of that period. Now we’re rival coaches but I get the feeling that we respect each other. In my view that’s a good thing, and it’d be perfect if it stayed that way.
Have you been surprised by how successful he’s been in the Barcelona dugout?
No, not at all. When Pep was a Barça player and I was an assistant coach, you could already see that he’d end up coaching. He was already the coach’s right - hand man out on the pitch; he liked to take charge and he’d think about the other players’ roles, (not just his own). I knew that when he was ready he’d become an excellent coach.
Have you made up with Xavi Hernandez, who along with Carles Puyol is one of the Barcelona players you used to get on well with?
I’ve never been at war with Xavi and we still get on very well. Sometimes during games things are said in the heat of the moment which are later forgotten once you’ve calmed down. I still think that Xavi is a superstar, a truly great player, and I’ve never denied that. I’m also still in touch with ‘Puyi’.
What kind of reception do you expect to receive at the Camp Nou in el clásico? Will it be more hostile than the one the Milan supporters gave you at San Siro?
The fans in the Camp Nou will never forgive me for denying them the opportunity to win the Champions League at the Santiago Bernabeu. I’m a persona non grata as far as Barcelonistas are concerned, so I’ll get a hostile reception. But I’m going there to play a football match and that’s that. It’s like I always say: if we win on Monday then it’ll be Tuesday the next day. And if we lose on Monday then it’ll still be Tuesday the next day. That’s why we have to keep working hard and enjoying ourselves just the same, whatever happens.
One final question, why is it that you always highlight how important the time you spent working at Barça was to you, yet you’ve been ‘Public Enemy No1’ with the club’s fans for years now?
That’s just football. I beat them with Chelsea, then with Inter and now I’m coaching their fiercest rivals, Real Madrid. That’s too many things in quick succession. The past doesn’t matter, it’s what’s happened recently that counts. That’s the way football works.