In an exclusive, extensive interview with France Football, Manchester United manager José Mourinho discussed a vast array of topics including the evolving role of a manager, his transformation from the Special One to the Calm One and more. In full below.
10 years ago, you said that it was difficult for you to live without a title. That it was what fed you. Is that still the case?
That is still true. But football has changed enormously. And I learnt that the make up of the job was to adapt to the project of the big clubs that you are working in, and to embrace them. I knew, when I arrived at Manchester United, that I would come across good things, but also other more difficult things. I need to adapt to this reality, to what the club wants, without losing my true nature, without being someone else.
That is why I take back what I said ten years ago, meaning that titles, victories, are the best way to educate a group of players, to change mentalities.
Did you enjoy winning the EFL Cup, against Southampton (3-2)?
Of course… I really enjoyed it.
You could not see that on your face…
That is probably my fault, just like it is my fault for saying things like the phrase you cited from ten years ago. The problem is that I attract responsibility, challenges, expectations. That is my way of being. I never hide. I am a direct person, who says things as they are.
I say what I think, and even sometimes what I don’t think to provoke a certain motivation from the people who I work alongside. I arrived at Manchester United at a difficult time. But it was the same for David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. The period that followed the departure of Sir Alex was difficult to handle for the club, and not only because of his departure.
It was also a new era for English football. A time where the financial strength became so enormous that it became terrifying for everyone. Because this financial strength did not exist only among two clubs, like in Spain, not among one club like in Germany, not among one or two clubs like in France. In England, it is spread out.
So yes, there are more powerful clubs than others and the expectations that come with that. But, here, everyone is powerful now. The scenery has changed. If I want to buy a player from Tottenham, I can’t. Nor can I buy a player from Manchester City or Arsenal. That was not the case before. At Chelsea, I brought in Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was the best player at Manchester City or Ashley Cole from Arsenal. Sir Alex, when he wanted the best player from Tottenham, he bought Michael Carrick and then Berbatov.
That means that you can only buy players from smaller English teams and from abroad?
Especially from abroad. In England, the clubs are so powerful financially that the market is open to all. Take the example of Bayern in Germany. You know when they started winning the title every year? When, the summer before, they bought Borussia Dortmund’s best player! Götze, then Lewandowski the following year, then Hummels last year.
I am arriving in a club with a great and prestigious history, that can no longer continue to decline in this way. No club in England, whether it is Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City can dominate in a permanent way. Power has been divided. Everything is more difficult: buying, winning, building.
What do you attribute this evolution to?
Everyone is under pressure. The media scrutiny is so enormous that even in a historic situation, that of Claudio Ranieri at Leicester, you find yourself sacked six months after winning the title. That is why, for me, all the stages of the process are important. The first was to put the fans in harmony with the team, which was not the case in the last two years.
They were not happy with the way in which the team was playing, the approach, the style of play, and they would leave the stadium ten minutes before the end. They needed to come back in our direction. It was difficult, because we had to coincide the team’s style with results.
And even when we had our four match run of draws at home, that was the case. Against Burnley, we beat the record for the amount of shots in a Premier League match (37). That means that we were restoring the attacking style of Manchester United. What the fans wanted to have. However, that was not necessarily what people were expecting from me, because people say that my teams are more pragmatic, realistic…
Or boring to watch…
You can say what you want. At the moment, I see a lot of defensive teams, but who win matches without being boring. But that is not the problem. What I am trying to say to you, is that, when I arrived at Manchester United, I knew that I needed to go in certain direction, and that is what I did.
When you say “direction”, do you mean a spectacle?
Exactly! To be attacking, to be dominant, to have the ball, chances, to not be fearful of conceding goals, to bring intensity, not to play with five defenders, or two attacking midfielders… To at least try to play positively.
What is your philosophy as a manager?
To adapt. You need to know how to adapt to the reality of the club, what it needs, what it demands. That is called being intelligent… When I arrived at Real Madrid, they had not got past the last 16 of the Champions’ League for ten years. A player as notable as Sergio Ramos did not even know what a quarter-final was. Barcelona were a dominant force on the continent.
How to beat them? When I arrived at Inter, they had been the champions of Italy for several years. How to take them further and win the Champions’ League? I came back to Chelsea, who had not won the Premier League for four years. How to make that happen again?
The priority is to establish relationships founded on peace and love in the squad, to create stability. Manchester United no longer has the super personalities of Giggs, Scholes or Roy Keane.
There is still Rooney and Carrick, who are the final faces of that generation, and a new group of players must adapt. That is why it was important for me to bring in Zlatan. In this team, he had, without being English, without knowing the culture of the club, the personality and the fit to be more than just a simple player.
What are the qualities that a manager of a big club must have?
You know, at the moment I am trying to understand why Luis Enrique announced that he is going to leave Barca, in the same way that I tried to understand, when I was at Madrid, why Guardiola wanted to quit Barcelona and take a year out. I read, just before this interview, what Guardiola said about Luis Enrique’s departure…
What I can say to you, across all my experiences in big clubs like Real, Inter, etc. is that the main quality, if you want to have a career, as in consistent success and not only a few moments of success, which is very difficult in the long term, is to know how to deal with the pressure that surrounds you. To be strong enough to deal with the critics, opinions, those who make them, the new generation of players who…
…Even you, José Mourinho, who would have thought that? (irony)
Of course! When you go to Wembley to play a cup final, it is an enormous responsibility. In this recent case, my mindset and Claude Puel’s mindset were totally different. If I win, it is normal. If I lose, it is not. For Claude, it was the opposite. If I win, I become the first manager in the history of the club to win a trophy in his first season as Manchester United manager. If I lose, I become the one who missed the opportunity to become the first manager in the history of the club to win a trophy in his first season.
It is totally different. In big clubs, where people like Luis Enrique, Guardiola, myself are, you feel this pressure, regardless of your stature. I will tell you know what Guardiola said: “The first necessary quality for the next manager of Barcelona will be to know not to listen.” He is totally right. The problem is that we listen.
How can you not do that?
I think that what Guardiola was trying to say, is that we should listen, but we should not take into account what we hear. To leave it behind you. Not to allow yourself to be influenced by it. To be strong. To take unpopular decisions.
But you are only a human being…
Exactly. And that is why I am not surprised that Pep, at one point, said: “I am taking a break. I am going to New York.” Not surprised that Luis Enrique is leaving. And I will even say this to you: at this precise moment in the season, pressure exists everywhere, at all levels, in all clubs. Those who today have 26 points, 28 points, and those who say that you need 40 to stay up, they are also under enormous pressure. Not only to save the club, but to save their job. Pressure exists in multiple forms, but it is omnipresent.
And to come back to the human aspect…
Taking into account the human qualities, techniques and tactics, leadership, I think that the most important quality for a manager in this multifunctional job is to know how to deal with pressure, meaning in the current environment where football is a passion for normal people, but for others, it is an industry.
Even in this country, which is home to tradition and stability, everything is in the process of becoming screwed up. The clubs are owned by foreign investors, no longer by traditional English people with the policies that came with that. Last season, I was sacked by Chelsea six months after becoming champion. The same of Ranieri this season with Leicester. This job is becoming crazy!
During the lessons that I give young managers at my old university in Portugal, the first thing that I bring their attention to, is to learn to live with this pressure, to make it part of your life.
The worst enemy of a manager like you, is it time, which stops you from building, or is it success?
For Ranieri, I think it was the success which was impossible to duplicate. He did something that he could not repeat. And people in the club were not loyal enough to understand that. It seemed obvious that, this season, they were going to find themselves in this situation. They did not understand that. They sacrificed their magician.
To be honest, I do not consider the success that Leicester had as normal. In my case, at Manchester United, it is different. I am lucky to have stable, intelligent owners who understand the English mentality in terms of the project and patience. The problem, is that modern society is toppling this stability. I lost matches at the beginning of the season, or sometimes I did not win them. I felt the confidence of my board. They said to me: “You have time, work. We believe in you.” Outside, it was different.
Do you think that in 2017, a manager can stay in the same club for twenty years, like Sir Alex or Arsène Wenger at Arsenal?
I don’t think so. Wenger will be the last one. When he leaves Arsenal, we won’t see again, in the decade that follows, a manager staying in the same club for more than seven years, ok, maximum ten. It has become impossible. Not just because of the profile of the clubs but also because of the profile of the managers.
I have doubts about the new generation of managers, about how they have been trained, their ability to integrate themselves into all aspects of a club. You are going to need personalities with enormous qualities.
To what extent does Mourinho the man hide behind Mourinho the manager?
Mourinho the man tries to be the opposite of the manager. He tries to be discreet, calm. To find a way to disconnect. I can come home and not watch a game of football, not think about football. I can do it. At the beginning of my career, I couldn’t. I was permanently connected, 24 out of 24 hours. I had to find a form of maturity. Today, I am happy within my personality as a man.
I have matured, I am more peaceful. A win no longer means the moon, a loss no longer means hell. And I think that I am in the process of transferring this calmness to those who are working with me, my players. I still have the same ambitions as before. The same involvement, the same professionalism. But I am more in control of my emotions.
Do you think that you are in control your emotions?
I can conceal them. And concealing, is a way of controlling. After the final of the EFL Cup, I was very happy. Did I show it? I don’t know. I’m not sure at all, even. But in public, I did not want put myself at the centre of an exploit that belonged to the players and the fans, that was all. In the dressing room, it was something else. There, I added a human aspect to my feelings, and I shared in the joy.
But to come back to the start of your question, I try to control my feelings, and especially my frustration. In this final, there were moments where I was not happy with the play that we were producing, but I tried to understand the context, the circumstances, to be unmoved and to transmit this mindset to the players. In every area, I am better than before.
How has your philosophy as a manager evolved over the course of the last 20 years?
I had to adapt to a new world. To what young players are now. I had to understand the difference between working with a boy like Frank Lampard, who, at the age of 23 was already a man, who thought football, work, professionalism, and the new boys who at the age of 23 are kids. Today I call them “boys” not “men”. Because I think that they are brats and that everything that surrounds them does not help them in their life nor in my work. I had to adjust to all that. 10 years ago, no player had a mobile phone in the dressing room. That is no longer the case. But you have to go with it, because if you fight that, you are bringing about conflict and you put yourself in the stone age.
If you stop a player from doing something, even something a little stupid, on social media, you are going against nature. I admit that having a son and a daughter at that sort of age has helped me to understand the way they function and what the world is today.
I measured, from a methodological point of view, the nature of change. I worked as a result with my assistants to better, modify and adapt our work. Technology has given us new tools. Modernity and science too. But the key to everything, in terms of the leadership aspect, is to understand the people that you are working with today.
What has changed the most since you started out on the touchline?
At the beginning of my career, I had to deal with a new aspect of football, which was the opening of the door to foreigners. In one swoop, we found ourselves in a dressing room which had 10 different nationalities in it, different races, different religions. It was the start of diversity.
When I was the assistant of Mr Robson at Porto, there were 28 Portuguese, one Brazilian, one Argentinian, and that was all. But, during my ten or twelve years as a manager, there was a true explosion in terms of diversity. I was strong enough to get used to that. I knew how to interact with people individually because I speak lots of foreign languages. That allowed to me to have very personal relationships with them.
I could speak in French with the French, in Spanish with others, in English, in Italian… I was very open to this diversity. I think that if there is one thing that I will never be, it is a racist! I was able to create squads with incredible strength. But this diversity has disappeared. Today, we are in a period of enclosure, of segregation. And we have to make things work with that world. The way that players are, what they think, how they behave with those who surround them. And to try and make the best of it.
You have a reputation for preparing your players before a match depending on each situation and the score at a specific time of the match…
There are two aspects of this preparation: the tactical point of view and the mental point of view. From the tactical point of view, it is good to do my job upstream and to make the players understand what I want. Take the example of the EFL Cup final. I said to them: “Ok how do Southampton play normally. So, we are going to work on their characteristics.”
But it is a team that had just spent 15 days in Spain to prepare themselves. Without playing. Without pressure. Without the media. We, during that time, had played four times. They, for two weeks, went to Spain. Ok?
What does that mean to me then, during that time, were they preparing a surprise for us? And what would that be? You then also have to think about what surprise they could have in store for us. So we therefore considered all the possibilities. Tadic will play more here than there. They could play with four in one area of play, with one in behind.
Tactically, you have to foresee everything and go into the most minor details. Be exhaustive in preparation.
And on a mental level?
From a psychological point of view, the stronger the empathy is in our squad, the more consistent the relationship is between the players, and the more ready you are. The “mind game,” which involves trying to manipulate someone psychologically via the media, is a way of creating a state of mind, but one that is most effective when you have a team full of personalities and one that is ready to absorb this sort of talk. At Inter, I was like a fish in water in this domain.
I had Materazzi, Cordoba, Ibrahimovic, Milito, Thiago Motta… guys who were willing to follow me everywhere. Aside from that, it is another thing to work in a club where the players do not have similar characteristics. So before taking a direction, you first have to understand the people you are working with. That is the human side of the job, and it is more important than everything else.
You never really liked the concept of ball possession…
That is not true. This season, we have an enormous percentage of ball possession in almost all our matches. But again, everything depends on the technical characteristics of the players that you have at your disposal. On what will enable the team to win. People sometimes confuse ball possession with the number of goals you score.
They forget that the aim is to always score and win. At Real, I had a team that broke the record for the number of goals scored in the history of the Spanish league: 121 goals in one season. It was the best in the world in terms of transition play, in terms of being effective in recovery, and then in terms of projecting the ball towards the goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo was 27, Di Maria was 23, Benzema and Higuain were 23 or 24. It was the team that killed everyone. Why would I change that? Because the Manchester United team is different. It is slower. It does not have quick players and has a desire to have the ball, in order to be dominant with play. Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs touches of the ball in order to play. Herrera, Carrick and Pogba too. Sometimes, in the last 20 minutes, I explore other options, and I put Marcus Rashford on to go in another direction. But, generally, I try to make do with the qualities that my players have.
What, at the end of it all, is the Mourinho touch?
You did not ask me the question to know why I won the title in each of the leagues that I have been in, but if you were to have asked that question, I would have told you that it was because I adapted to wherever I went. My team plays in this way or that way because that corresponds to the players that I have. It is as simple as that.
If I tried to play on the counter with Manchester United, I am in s**t. If you want to play possession with a team where the players dribble a lot, take the maximum risks, push forward quickly, I would kill the potential of the players. I could have said to Di Maria, who was faster than an arrow: “You do not dribble, you play with one touch, you pass the ball, because I do not want to lose.” But I prefer to play with the qualities that my players have.
Aitor Karanka, who was your right-hand man at Real, recently told us that you want assistants that contradict you…
Absolutely. I do not need “yes men,” instead I want people who have their own opinions. And even people who contest my decisions, questioning them. I always say to my assistants: “During the match, I want to think alone.” I do not want to have someone who is going to talk next to me, to tell me things. In those moments, I want to put together my expertise, with my instinct, with my feeling.
I want to manage the team by myself. During the week, however, before or after matches, I am counting on them to behave like managers, who think for themselves, who think about what I say, who criticise me, who ask me questions for me to explain what I am doing with the team. I learnt that at Barcelona with Mr Van Gaal. That is what he demanded from his assistants.
At Chelsea, first you were the “Special One,” then the “Happy One”. What are you today at Manchester United?
I would say the “Calm One”. Everyone was waiting for me to cause problems. But the only problem that I have had up until now, is that when I kicked a bottle of water that was in front of me. I was sent to the stands and I had to pay a fine for that. That is my problem: when I am a bit frustrated, I kick bottles. But that is the only slip since I arrived eight months ago. So, I have become the “Calm One”. Aside from that, maybe, tomorrow, I will be dismissed (laughs).