"I think,” the Chelsea manager José Mourinho says, “I have a problem, which is I’m getting better at everything related to my job since I started. There has been evolution in many different areas – the way I read the game; the way I prepare the game; the way I train; the methodology … I feel better and better. But there is one point where I cannot change: when I face the media, I am never a hypocrite.”
Statistically speaking, Mourinho is the most successful club manager in world football. He has won the league titles in each of the four countries where he has managed – his native Portugal, Italy, Spain and England. He has won the Champions League twice. But that, of course, is only the half of it. Mourinho is – arguably – also the most divisive manager in football. There is no manager more likely to ignite the ire of rival fans. The jousting with referees and the FA, the press-conference wind-ups, the touchline sulks – never mind the football, watching Mourinho is almost a spectator sport in itself.
In a cavernous studio in south London, Mourinho has spent the past two hours being photographed in a variety of sport-casual clothing, and climbing in and out of a Jaguar sports car. He is a stylish, but determinedly conservative, dresser, who says he takes little interest in clothes, and whose priority is comfort rather than fashion.
His own wardrobe is invariably a hushed medley of blacks, greys and dark blues. He is not a citrus-coloured sweater kind of guy. He has discharged these photo-shoot duties uncomplainingly, in a businesslike fashion, neither smiling nor scowling, rather wearing an expression of inscrutability so familiar that it almost merits its own adjective, Mourinho-esque. Not even being “photo-bombed” by Didier Drogba, who has wandered in from an adjacent studio, where he is fulfilling his own promotional obligations, can throw Mourinho off his stride.
photobombed by Drogba <3
When, at the end of the session, everyone gathers round a laptop to examine the photographs, all eyes look expectantly to Mourinho for his verdict. “Not bad,” he says. Not bad? Does this mean “excellent”, “terrible”? Or simply, as he says, “not bad”. It is impossible to tell.
Now he is seated on a sofa in the studio canteen, his two agents – English and Portuguese – within hailing distance. An assortment of cakes and sandwiches and a bottle of water have been placed on the table in front of him. They will remain untouched.
Mourinho has spent the morning at Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham, Surrey. The ritual is always the same. He arrives each day around 7.30am, goes into his office and locks the door, and remains there for the next two hours. “I need my time to be lonely,” he says. “You know, in football, I’m not so old. At 52 maybe I have 20 years in front of me to coach. But I feel myself as… you might say an ‘old fox’. Nothing scares me, nothing worries me too much; it looks like nothing new can happen for me. I am very, very stable in the control of these emotions but I need my time to think. Not wake up in the middle of the night worrying about somebody’s injury, or the tactic for this match. I need to reflect, I need to try to anticipate problems. I need my time.”
Mourinho’s father – also José – was a goalkeeper, who made one appearance for Portugal before becoming a coach. The young José would accompany him to games, sometimes running the line, passing on instructions from his father to the players. He became a player himself but after a short and undistinguished career as a defender in the second tier of the Portuguese league decided to move into coaching, enrolling at the Technical University of Lisbon to study sports science, and then becoming a teacher.
His first job was teaching children with Down’s syndrome and severe mental disabilities – “a big challenge”, he admits. “I wasn’t technically ready to help these kids. And I had success only because of one thing, the emotional relation that was established with them. I did little miracles only because of the relationship. Affection, touch, empathy – only because of that. There was one kid that refused all his life to walk up stairs. Another one that couldn’t coordinate the simplest movement – all these different problems, and we had success in many, many of these cases only based on that empathy.
“After that I was coaching kids of 16. Now I coach the best players in the world, and the most important thing is not that you are prepared from the technical point of view; the most important thing is the relationship you establish with the person. Of course you need the knowledge, the capacity to analyse things. But the centre of everything is the relationship, and empathy, not only with the individual but in the team. And to have that empathy in the team we all must give up something. It’s not about establishing the perfect relation between me and you; it’s about establishing the perfect relation to the group, because the group wins things; it’s not the individual who wins things.”
The team. It is the word that Mourinho returns to constantly in conversation. How do you harness individual talent to the collective purpose; how do you motivate players who even before their 21st birthdays are often on salaries beyond the supporters’ wildest dreams. “It’s true!” Mourinho’s voice rises. “Once players came to football expecting to be wealthy when they retired. Now they expect to be wealthy before they’ve played their first game!”
Mourinho (far right) lining up for Setubal team UCFI against Benfica in 1987
In football, as all else, the cult of celebrity – of the individual – runs rampant, nowhere more in evidence than in the Fifa Ballon d’Or, the annual award for the international footballer of the year, where the world’s greatest players are lionised with a razzmatazz worthy of the Academy Awards.
As Mourinho acknowledges, there is not much that he and the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, agree on. (Mourinho refers to him simply as “Wenger”, almost choking on the word.) “But I think Wenger said something that is interesting; he is against the Ballon d’Or, and I think he’s right, because in this moment football is losing a little bit the concept of the team to focus more on the individual. We are always looking at the individual performance, the individual stat, the player that runs more. Because you run 11km in a game and I run nine you did a better job than I did? Maybe not! Maybe my 9km were more important than your 11.” He laughs.
“For me, football is collective. The individual is welcome if you want to make our group better. But you have to work for us, not we have to work for you. When the top player arrives, the team is already there. It’s not him who comes to discover the team, like Columbus discovering America. No, no, you are coming now to help us be better. And as a manager you have to give this message every day – not with lectures or words. It’s about what the players observe in relation to the behaviour and to the feedback – the way you react to this player and that player; the empathy with this one and that one.
“The only thing you cannot give to a player is the talent. But can you work the talent properly so that he understands the team’s needs? Is he an intelligent, open guy waiting for you to help him be better? Is he the kind of maverick guy, the selfish guy, where it is much more difficult to persuade him the team is more important than he is. I’ve had all of these in every club I’ve ever worked at. There is no perfect group anywhere but if you ask me what’s the most important thing in a player, it’s the talent.”
It is a cause of constant frustration and bemusement to fans, I say, when young footballers are given the opportunity that every fan dreams of – only to squander it.
“I know.” Mourinho nods. “But, remember, they’re the final product of something. I had one player, for example – I won’t name him – and I gave him the chance to play in the first team. A couple of weeks after he’d played his father left his job, his mother left her job; they were living with him, living his life, making decisions for him. It’s very difficult.”
And what happened to the player? His shrug suggests a career that quickly went into decline.
“That’s one example out of 1,000. They need to be lucky with the parents; they need to be lucky with the agents. They need education. I had a player once that came to me with a new car, and I told him, ‘Another one? Why? Do you have a house?’ No. ‘Do you have lots of money in the bank?’ No. He said, ‘This car, I didn’t buy it; my father got it for free in leasing and I signed the document.’ I said, ‘Do you know what leasing is?’ He said, ‘It’s free!’ No! Sit here and I explain to you what is leasing. He didn’t know, because nobody had explained.
“When I got real money in my hands – real big money – it was my second contract with Porto in 2003, I was thirtysomething. I was married. I was ready for it. These guys, they’re 16, 17, 19, 20. They don’t know how to react, what to do.
“In Chelsea we have a fantastic department which we call Players Support and Welfare where they help the players with everything. They have people in the bank to explain money. You want to buy a house? Let’s make sure you’re with the right person making the right deal. Young players coming to the first team – don’t buy a car, we’re sponsored by Audi and they provide the cars for the players. The players need this. This is a complicated world.”
And you find yourself in the role of father figure? “It’s my duty!”
Mourinho and his wife, Matilde, were teenage sweethearts, growing up a street away from each other in the coastal town of Setúbal. They have been married for 26 years, and have two teenage children, also named Matilde and José.
Mourinho’s first managerial job came in 2000 when he was appointed as the manager of the Portuguese side Benfica, having worked as a translator and then as a coach under Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona. He lasted only three months at Benfica before resigning after a contretemps with the club president. He moved on to União de Leiria and then Porto, where he won the Portuguese Primeira Liga twice, the Uefa Cup and, in 2004, the Champions League. That led to his first stint at Chelsea, where he won the Premier League in two consecutive seasons (2004-05, 2005-06), the FA Cup and the League Cup, again twice. As the manager of Inter Milan he won the Serie A twice, and the Champions League for a second time. In 2010 he moved on to Real Madrid, where he won the Copa Del Rey and La Liga in consecutive seasons. In June 2013 he returned to Chelsea.
His closest friend, he says, is Rui Faria, who became his assistant on his first day as the manager at Benfica, and who has followed him to every club he has managed since. “Rui used to say, ‘A winning football manager is the best life in the world.’” Mourinho laughs. “It’s a fact, and we try. But in this country we have so many matches that you cannot allow yourself to be affected. I lose 5-3, the next day I have a training session, and in two or three days have another match. I win 3-0 or 4-0, the next day I have a training session and in two or three days I have another match. I must try to hide my emotions. I have to live with both the victory and the defeat.
“The manager is not the most important person in the club – of course not. I keep saying, the most important person in the club is first the supporters, secondly the owner, third the players, and then I come. But it is the manager that everyone looks at. The players are watching you, analysing you; they want to see your reaction, they want to see your stability. The people that work in the club are also watching you, and they follow in a negative or positive way. Even the supporters are watching you. They want to feel that after that big defeat you are ready for the next day; that after the big victory you are not in the moon but have your feet in the earth. And I think I am good in controlling these situations, and good in trying to keep people balanced for the negative and for the positive. At home I am not good, because they know me too well. I can’t hide. They get me.”
Mourinho is a courteous and cultured man. He is a great admirer of the writing of Fernando Pessoa, Portugal’s most beloved poet. (There is a line from Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet that might have been written for him: “I’ve always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I’m not, remaining humanly unknown, with naturalness and all due respect.”) In conversation he is thoughtful, accommodating and expansive – very different from the terse, crafted soundbites of the post-match press conference. He is a man of some propriety. At one point in our conversation he lets slip a colloquialism – a relatively inoffensive one – which he quickly asks me not to repeat.
When I ask what is the most interesting thing he has encountered outside football in recent times he talks about visiting the Ivory Coast in his role as World Food Programme Ambassador Against Hunger. “This has been a fantastic experience for me, that I shared with my wife and kids,” he says. “We know about poverty, but to be directly in contact with that reality was fantastic – negative, positive, difficult to deal with, but at the same time [there is a feeling of] tremendous pride to be connected with it, to promote their works.”
He and his wife also support a Catholic food programme in Setúbal. “But we have a principle that we do it not for people to know, or to promote our profile. We do it because we can, and we want our son and daughter to understand how privileged we are, and to understand that other people need support.”
He is a religious man, in the sense, he says, “that I believe totally, clearly. Every day I pray; every day I speak with Him. I don’t go to the church every day, not even every week. I go when I feel I need to. And when I’m in Portugal, I always go.”
What does he pray for? “For my family! For my kids, for my wife, for my parents, for happiness and a good family life. But I can say the reality is I never go to the church to speak with Him about football. Never!”
Would he describe himself as a good person?
“I think so. I try to be. And I think I am. I don’t have problems with family or friends. I am a good family person; I am a good friend. I try to support people that I don’t even know. Do I make mistakes? Yes. My professional area is not only very competitive – it is competitive and emotional and [you must] push people for a certain kind of behaviour – absolutely, yes. But the professional life is only part of a person; a person is much more than that.”
He does his best, he says, to separate his professional and family life. He never discusses football with his wife. “It’s not her world. Be in a club that I like. Be in a place that I enjoy. Work with people that I like. That is basically the advice [she gives] because when that happens life at home for everyone will be better. But it is difficult. Even if I can separate things, sometimes they can’t. If I lose an important match, I try to go home with a nice face, tomorrow is another day, and it’s just a game of football and so on and so on. But I arrive at home, and they have the bad face!” He laughs. “They are sad for me!”
Footballers – and football managers – tend to be creatures of habit. They gravitate to large homes with long gravel drives and a semi-rural aspect. You could throw a net over the prosperous Cheshire suburb of Alderley Edge and catch half the Manchester United squad, and their manager. The area around the leafy Surrey town of Cobham, where Chelsea have their training ground, is thickly populated with the team’s players. It says something interesting about Mourinho that he should instead choose to live in Belgravia. His family prefers it, he says, “and me too”. Unlike Madrid or Milan, in London, he says, he can lead “an almost normal life”.
He can walk on the street and “within five minutes” find a Chelsea supporter, a Tottenham supporter, an Arsenal supporter, “even the Liverpool supporter or the United supporter. And I like that. In other places I’ve worked you’re always walking in the middle of your club’s fans. Milan, 50 per cent Inter, 50 per cent AC. Madrid, maybe 70 per cent. Real, 30 per cent Atlético. In Porto, 100 per cent. If someone comes up to me, I like to listen. Although if someone wants to give me a lesson in football, of course not!
“But I think people in London understand what it is to disturb and not to disturb. They have a notion that people need space, that people deserve respect. If I am disturbed it is always by non-English people. The English people in the restaurant, of course they want an autograph or a selfie, but they wait until I finish my meal. Go to a shop, they wait – they don’t come when I’m choosing my socks. And walking in the street I have the same feeling. It is impossible in London that somebody would disturb because of a negative result when you are walking in the street with your family. Impossible! In Madrid, Milan – always.”
Every football fan, he says with a weary shake of the head, is a manager; but the blunt fact is that people take football far too seriously. “I am passionate about football, of course. But for us professionals, if it means everything, we are in trouble; and for supporters the same. In Portugal they say that you can change everything except your mum and your football club. I understand because of football’s power, socially, politically and culturally. But how can a football player be in the top 100 of the most influential people in the world in Forbes magazine?” Actually, two footballers. Last year Cristiano Ronaldo was at number 30 in the Forbes list, Lionel Messi at number 45. “It’s absurd! We don’t save lives! I know that people can jump from a fifth floor because his team lost a game, but that person has problems. How can you compare a football player, a football manager with a scientist, a doctor? You cannot compare.”
Mourinho says he has no close friends in English football. “Some, we like each other and have some communication, but I cannot say so close.” But there is one man for whom his admiration is boundless: Sir Alex Ferguson.
The two men first met as managers in 2004, when Porto knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League. “That was when I felt the two faces of such a big man,” Mourinho says. “The first face was the competitor, the man that tried everything to win. And after that I found the man with principles, with the respect for the opponent, with the fair play – I found these two faces in that period, and that was very important for me.
“In my culture, the Portuguese and the Latin culture, we don’t have that culture of the second face; we are in football to win and when we don’t there is not a second face most of the time. But when we beat United in the Champions League I got that beautiful face of a manager which I try to have myself. I try.”
It is true to say, perhaps, that his struggle is not always understood. The adjective that is most often ascribed to Mourinho is “Machiavellian”.
“I don’t see myself that way.”
Has he read Machiavelli?
“Yes, I know Machiavelli, of course. I agree that sometimes I can have something of Machiavelli in some of my comments, but no more than that. Not at all.”
Every football manager is at heart a complainer –diabolical decision; it was clearly a penalty, or clearly wasn’t; we were unlucky – but Mourinho has raised complaining to a fine art. It is not simply that referees are against him, the whole world is against him – a default position that seems calculated to instil a fighting “underdog” mentality in his team, but also a way of getting his excuses in early. In press conferences, an area where he reigns supreme, his most anodyne comments can give the impression of a man somehow undermining someone – his opponent, the footballing authorities, the reporter. Even his compliments stubbornly defy being taken at face value.
“It’s the Ferguson thing,” one seasoned football writer told me. “When José starts being nice about people it’s because he doesn’t see them as a threat.”
Mourinho looks deeply offended when I suggest this. “No! I like to praise people when people deserve – other managers, players. I love to say ‘fantastic referee’, especially after a defeat.”
It strikes me, I say, that he is greatly misunderstood; that he is actually one of the great deadpan comedians.
Mourinho looks at me, and says nothing. Then, ever so slowly, his face creases into an enormous smile.
video: Jose Mourinho on his career highlights
CAR: Jaguar F-Type
I've driven many cars of similar high performance and beautiful style, but nothing is like a Jaguar. The noise of the F-Type and the speed... there is nothing like it.
WATCH: Hublot King Power 'Special One'
I made it, I designed it and the company did it for me according to my needs. It's the colour I want, the material I want and the right size and weight. I designed it with the company. It's my watch.
I like it. It is that simple. It does everything I need.
HOLIDAY DESTINATION: Portugal
It is always nice to return home. Home is home, and I don't get there enough with the busy football season.
RESTAURANT: My home
As a family we always eat together and although we like many restaurants in London, we have the most fun when we eat at home together.
THE TELEGRAPH'S SELECTION OF MOU'S ALL TIME BEST XI (4-3-3 formation): Petr Cech (GK), Javier Zanetti (RB), John Terry (CB), Ricardo Carvalho (CB), William Gallas (LB), Claude Makelele (DMC), Frank Lampard (MC), Mesut Ozil (MC), Eden Hazard (LW), Didier Drogba (FC), Cristiano Ronaldo (RW)
subs: Julio Cesar, Ashley Cole, Sergio Ramos, Deco, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto'o
I go back and forth with Mou (especially this season when he's whining so much), but this interview is one of those that make me love him. :)