After his recent appointment to Manchester United, James Ducker spoke to ‘the special one’ himself, José Mourinho about his hopes for his new club and the players within it
From the moment he introduced himself to Old Trafford 12 years ago with that brazen dash down the touchline to celebrate the goal that sent his Porto team into the Champions League quarter-finals, Mourinho has been a source of fascination for many United fans, whose playful chiding of a man they came to view as a pantomime villain at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid often hinted at a begrudging respect for the Portuguese’s talents.
Maybe it was because they saw something of a young Sir Alex Ferguson in Mourinho’s cocksure antics that March night in 2004, but while he will not satisfy all United tastes, he seems an easy fit for a role that proved too big for David Moyes and a job too far for an ageing Louis van Gaal. “I never thought about it really,” Mourinho replies, unconvincingly, when asked if the Old Trafford post was akin to a calling before his mask slipped.
“I always had that good feeling, for sure, and I think the fans feel the same,” he says. “I remember playing at Old Trafford and the way to the dugout was always nice. It was never like in other stadiums. There was always a connection. Then can you end up being their manager one day or not? I always felt that what has to happen happens and it happened so…”
Mourinho’s first few weeks at United have already helped to restore the faith of many fans, from his bullish declarations to his manoeuvrings in the transfer market, which have yielded Zlatan Ibrahimovic, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, defender Eric Bailly so far concluded with the £89million capture of Paul Pogba. It certainly would come as no surprise if the France midfielder had been won over by the sort of classic Mourinho salesmanship that persuaded Ibrahimovic, whom he managed at Inter, to join him at Old Trafford.
“Let’s be honest, he’s very rich,” Mourinho says of the former Paris St-Germain, Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan and Ajax striker. “He’s made money all his career, he’s won a lot of things, you only come to the most difficult championship in the world if you feel you can do it. If you don’t feel you can do it you go to America, China, stay in the French League one more season.
“So the guy wanted one more challenge. When I told him that I had won in England, Spain and Italy and he hadn’t, that he’d done Spain, Italy and France, he thought, ‘Ahh, I want to go. I want to win every one’.”
Mourinho scoffs at the idea that Ibrahimovic’s age – the Swede has just turned 35 – is a problem, just as he looks incredulous when asked if Rooney will retain the captaincy, responding with an emphatic “of course”.
“For me your real age is not the age on your ID,” he says. “That’s just a date when you were born. The real age, the real ID is your body, your brain, your attitude and this guy [Ibrahimovic] is young, his body is amazing. The way he grew up playing the sports he did before football, especially martial arts, he was prepared in terms of his muscles and mental point of view in a different way to the traditional football player.”
Mourinho allowed Ibrahimovic to skip United’s tour to China because he felt it would benefit the striker’s preparations for the new season.
“I expect he is going to be very good for us,” says Mourinho. “Sometimes people say the team has no leaders, but what we need is everybody with the same kind of mentality. I give a lot of instruction in training. It’s difficult for me to do the same in matches so I need guys on the pitch to read the game, to understand what we want. Zlatan is going to be one of them and I feel already that we have guys to do the same. When I see our group in the attacking areas. Zlatan, Rashford, Rooney, Mkhitaryan, Mata, all the wingers we have. I think we have lots of quality in attack to produce good football and score goals.”
Note the name Mata. Mourinho sold the Spaniard to United for £37.1million in January 2014 and the player’s future has been in question ever since it became obvious his old manager would be coming to Old Trafford. Mourinho, though, is adamant there is a place for Mata at United, even if the player has been informed privately that he may not start regularly.
“I sold Mata because he asked for that,” Mourinho explains. “Nobody in my previous club wanted to sell or push him. No, it was his decision, he was not the first option. We had a proposal from a big club like Man United. In this moment the numbers are going crazy so that number that looked very high [then], three years laterit looks very cheap but my philosophy is I don’t want players that want to leave.
“I think since the first day everything is clear between us. He’s a talented player and I don’t promise places to
anyone. I promise respect and I like him so if he wants to stay and I think he wants to, yes, there is space for him and, yes, I think he can be useful to the club.”
Mourinho has not stayed for very long at the clubs he has managed but he hopes that changes at United. “I’m not at Chelsea [anymore] because the owner didn’t want me,” the Portuguese says of his sacking last December. “If he [Roman Abramovich] wanted me I would still be there. “I have the contract I have [with United] and for that the owners are happy. To give me a new [extended] contract I will be happy to do that because that is what I want at this moment in my career, that’s what I want but I think it depends on many things. And I will try to do my work to make the owners realise that I am the right guy for this job.”
★NAME Jose Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix
★BORN Setubal, Portugal, January 26 1963
★FAMILY Father Jose was Portugal national goalkeeper for one match
★PLAYING CAREER Minimal. After five years as a PE teacher he became interpreter to Bobby Robson when former England manager was in charge of Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona
★MANAGERIAL CAREER Fifth coach to have won league titles in at least four different countries: Portugal (Porto), England (Chelsea), Italy (Inter Milan) and Spain (Real Madrid)
★TOP STAT Between February 23 2002 and April 2 2011, he went 150 home league matches unbeaten
★MASTER OF CONTROVERSY He infamously poked the eye of Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova on the touchline after a cup final with Real Madrid in 2011
★DID YOU KNOW? First manager to spend more than 1 billion euros signing players