José Mourinho: Chelsea's best years are coming
Chelsea manager José Mourinho is right near the top of my favorite interview subjects in world soccer. There's just no filler when you sit down with him. Nearly everything he says is interesting, and you can't ask for much more than that in this business.
Mourinho is one of the winningest coaches in any sport, having claimed two Champions League crowns, seven league titles and a UEFA Cup, among other trophies, in head jobs that have taken him to Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. Now 50, Mourinho is starting his second tour at Chelsea, and we sat down for a one-on-one interview in Washington D.C. on August 2, parts of which first appeared on Fox Sports 1. Here is the interview, edited for length and clarity:
Wahl: When I look at Chelsea in the league since you left, I see league finishes of third, sixth, second, first, third and second. One league title out of six since you left. Average finish: third. What happened to Chelsea, and how do you fix it?
Mourinho: Well, what's happened I don't know very well, because I was not there. I was in Italy and Spain, and I was focused on that. But I think the Premier League is not easy. The Premier League is a championship where more teams fight for the top positions. In Spain you know first and second, one is Madrid and one is Barcelona. In Germany it is Bayern and Dortmund. In Italy now it's Juventus, Milan and Napoli. You go to England, and you have five, six teams, and you don't know. Man United have kept that level in the last 10 years, first and second only. But all the other teams, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, two, three, four, five, six. It's more difficult to always be stable.
But I could do that in the first period I was there [at Chelsea], we were first and second only. And we have to try to go to that level with a team that is very, very young. And I think the best years of this team are not this year and next. This team has 10 years to bring the best out of these kids, and I think we have a great future. But of course we want to try to be the best immediately. Because it's my nature, the nature of this club, of this owner, so we have to try immediately. But we have enough experience to know the best years of this team are coming.
Wahl: There are new managers at Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea. Is the race for the title more wide-open this year as a result?
Mourinho: I believe so, but Man United is the champion, a club with a big culture of winning. The squad is very stable. It's a squad that comes from many, many years, not too young a squad, in the best years of their career. You go to Man City, and the squad was amazing, and now they are spending a lot and well. They are signing players in the top of their careers, world champions, European champions like [Jesús] Navas, [Álvaro] Negredo, these kinds of top players. I think Tottenham has a fantastic squad too. Arsenal with this manager year after year must arrive to the year when they are going to win again. Liverpool. We are all there.
Wahl: You once told me during an interview in Madrid that "for a coach, England is a paradise." Why is that the case? How is England different from other countries?
Mourinho: It's a paradise in the sense that you can train with closed doors, people accept that in the proper way. The media, they have a certain profile different from Italy and Spain. The supporters are full of love for the club. They live with big emotion for 90 minutes, but after that they are waiting for the next 90 minutes. They are not living with the same emotion and intention in life day by day, so you don't feel like you are playing every minute you are in the street. In Spain and Italy and Portugal, you are in the street and you can't walk, even with your kids, because it's like you are playing a derby.
The competitiveness between opponents is very hard, more competition than every other country. But socially you have a little time to breathe. It's not football 24 hours per day. In England they give you space, respect.
Wahl: You were not on good terms with [owner] Roman Abramovich when you left Chelsea...
Mourinho: I was. I was.
Wahl: You were?
Mourinho: I was.
Wahl: So why did you leave?
Mourinho: Because it was the best for us.
Wahl: OK. So what are the terms that you are on with him now that allowed you to come back to this job?
Mourinho: The project is quite new for me, and to be fair, I don't want to look like I'm not humble (laughs), but I think Chelsea needs me in this moment. Because it's more "build" than "rebuild." It's to build a new team. I left in 2006-07, and still now there is quite a spine of my team. So my team lasts for almost 10 years. And now I have in my hands as a consequence of the good work Chelsea did in the last years a very good group of young players, very talented players, and I have these kids in my hands to build the future of Chelsea. As I was saying, it's in my nature, the owner's nature, the supporters' nature. We want to win. We don't want to say we are building to win in five years time. We don't want to think like that, but the reality of this team is it has a lot to improve, and the kids have fantastic potential. We have conditions to do our work for the next 10 years.
Wahl: You mentioned the potential of these young players. Will the style of this Chelsea team be any different from your first time with the club?
Mourinho: It depends on them. I have to adapt to their qualities. My Chelsea was different from this one, more physical, stronger mentally. It was a team with a different stability. This team has more talent. Speaking generally, my team was more adapted to a 4-3-3. This team now, I think with the players we have, is better to play with three players behind the striker and just with two midfield players. So it depends on what we have in our hands. I have big experience and know what is best for the team, and we are working to make this situation work. My ideas, their qualities, what is important is fundamental for me. How can they adapt to it? So we are working hard on that.
Wahl: Do Juan Mata and David Luiz fit the style of play you want to have here?
Mourinho: Good players always fit. But we need to go in the same direction. I can open the door for them to influence me in my way of thinking and my way of looking at them, and they have to open their door, to be open to the changes I want from them.
Wahl: Do you have any interest still in acquiring Wayne Rooney? [Reminder: Interview took place on August 2.]
Mourinho: Yes. We have. But we're a club with big responsibilities in the world of football and especially in our country. We want to do these things properly. What we did is public. We made a bid. Man United made an answer to that bid. We are still interested, but we are respecting this period. The market is open until [Sept. 2], and we will see what is going to happen. But what we do, we do face to face, we do officially. We are not the kind of club that does dirty work.
Wahl: On August 30, you face Bayern and Pep Guardiola in the UEFA Super Cup. You've had some legendary battles with Guardiola on the field and verbally. What do you think about when you think about that game and playing against his team?
Mourinho: I don't think anything special, because Super Cup is not a big competition. Super Cup is a consequence of what happened the year before. To be fair, I don't think Guardiola and myself have much to do with what happened last year, because we were not there. But of course now we are in charge. For me, I am building a young team. I think it's a big occasion for the boys, to work for a big match before we start Champions League. A good occasion to feel it and see the reaction of my players playing against probably the best team in the world. In the last year they were for sure. For Guardiola it's different. He has on his hands the best team. So I think he probably faces the Super Cup with a different approach. He has the best team. He has to win. I have a young team, and I'm going to use that match to see what we can do in the Champions League.
Wahl: In three seasons at Real Madrid you won one Spanish league, one Copa del Rey, no Champions League titles. You called last season, after two good seasons, "the worst season of my career." Do you personally feel like you have something to prove moving forward now?
Mourinho: If I finish my career today -- and I don't, but if I did -- I want to know how many did what I did (smiles).
Wahl: Can Fernando Torres be an impact player this season at this level?
Mourinho: I hope so. We work on that. We try, again, to make this interaction that I was speaking about before between me and the players. We have to do it between the players and the team and the way the team plays. I think Fernando is a player that I know his good qualities. And we have to try to help him playing in relation to the qualities he has. So we have to work on that. He's working very hard, and I am pleased with it.
Wahl: I want to have a little fun here. I'll read off some coaches' names, and you give me one sentence with your opinion on each.
Wahl: Carlo Ancelotti.
Mourinho: He loves to go after me. (laughs)
Wahl: Pep Guardiola.
Mourinho: Great coach.
Wahl: Arsene Wenger.
Mourinho: He represents what we all want to represent, which is stability in the club and work, always thinking in the future, and without the pressure of the present.
Wahl: Sir Alex Ferguson.
Mourinho: The best ever in English football, and nobody can arrive where he arrived.
Wahl: David Moyes.
Mourinho: Very good guy, very good coach. I can't wish him very much luck because he's an opponent, but a good guy and coach.
Wahl: Manuel Pellegrini.
Mourinho: Manuel Pellegrini? Manuel Pellegrini is a coach that had a big occasion in Madrid to do it, and he couldn't do it. And I know why, because it is not easy. And now he has a second great chance to prove what I think he is: A very good coach. But I hope he doesn't prove it! (laughs)
Wahl: André Villas-Boas.
Mourinho: He's one of the best young talents, a young coach.
Wahl: Rafa Benítez.
Mourinho: Rafa Benítez? He's a coach of my generation, more or less the same age. He's one of the successful ones. He won a few important competitions. And now, because he's in a championship that is not my championship, I wish him well.
Wahl: So is this a new Mourinho? Because I hear about you having dinner with Wenger and wonder: Is some of the stuff that happened between you and other managers over the years, is that going away?
Mourinho: When you are not in the same championship, everything is easier. For example, yesterday, the Inter coach [Walter] Mazzari, when we were in the same championship, him at Napoli, me at Inter, far from friends. Yesterday we were speaking for one hour before the match. We are in different competitions. He's at a club that I love a lot. So I think from yesterday we will become friends. That's football.
Wahl: About the United States. You seem to love coming to this country. Why?
Mourinho: For many reasons. One, because I love soccer, what you call soccer. I love it, and I think we have a responsibility in the areas of the globe where our sport is not king. And we know soccer is coming up a little bit step by step. The conditions to build our group [during preseason training] are very good, because we always have good facilities to work. We have socially the conditions to build something different than in Asia or Africa or Europe, where people are crazy about us and you can't step outside your room. Here we can socialize, we can go out for a walk. We can be together after dinner in the lobby drinking a Coke or something. So the conditions to make a group grow up.
Wahl: You said one time to me that you would like to finish your career coaching in the United States, whether it was with a club or the national team. Do you still have that interest?
Mourinho: Yes. But now I am at the club where I want to be. I am in the club where I don't have a next ambition. I always had the next ambition. At this moment I don't have that. The next ambition is to stay here the most time I can as a consequence of my good work. That's what I want. But I love so much this sport that I feel we should do something to try and make it bigger and bigger worldwide. This is an incredible country in terms of sport. Naturally, people love sport. And soccer is behind some sports, and the only way we can bring it is to bring good coaches, good players, good clubs to compete and try to create some enthusiasm and passion, especially in the kids.