Jose Mourinho warns Chelsea's 'special ones'
Jose Mourinho is sitting at a table in an open room at the top of the Keraton hotel in Jakarta (five stars, lots of security) and looking out as a tropical wind howls around the skyscrapers of the city. For the last 12 days he has worked his players hard – double sessions in the heat of three South-east Asian countries – and the scope of his squad is becoming clear to him.
This is Mourinho, the trophy-hunter extraordinaire, a man who always wants more. What has defined him since he left Porto as a Champions League winner nine years ago? It has been the ability to manage elite players and, in many cases, push them further than before. He did it at Chelsea and Inter Milan and while there was just one League title at Real Madrid, it was won against the best team of this generation, perhaps any generation.
He is the big-time manager who manages the big-time players. But Mourinho's approach says there can be no comfort zone, not for the old guard of John Terry and Frank Lampard, and not for the new generation at the club. Today Chelsea's squad is completed – for now – when the Confederations Cup crew join up – Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, David Luiz, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and John Obi Mikel – and on Tuesday they fly to the United States for their final pre-season preparation.
Mourinho cannot wait for it. One question about whether he has been impressed by Eden Hazard elicits this thesis: "I am not the kind of guy that makes life easy for the great players. If they are great they have to give more than the others. If they are great they cannot be happy with a few good things they do.
"As a manager this is the last kind of player that I praise. You have to praise the guys who play at their limits, they give everything. They are not superstars. They are just good players trying to support their teams. These special players? I don't praise them easily."
There is a moment of confusion. Is he saying he prefers the toilers in his squad? "No! I prefer the top players. Don't get me wrong, I prefer the top players who win matches for you, who make the difference when things are close, the kind of guy who scores the winning goal, the kind of guy who makes an easy assist for a goal. For me, to praise an ordinary player is easy. For me to praise a top player is not easy."
His words are carefully targeted. At times in the games Chelsea played in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, Hazard looked the stand-out player. But under Mourinho he will not be allowed to perform intermittently. The same rules will apply to Mata, about whom it is more revealing what Mourinho does not say as opposed to what he does.
Mourinho dismisses comparisons between Hazard and a young Cristiano Ronaldo. "I don't like comparing," he says. "But I think the kid [Hazard] has a lot of talent, as everybody knows.
"But he has to go from a great talent to great numbers. Football is about numbers and he has to transform his great talent into great numbers: how many goals, how many assists, how many winning goals, how many goals in big matches. Football is about numbers in a very pragmatic way. I'm ready to help him, I'm ready to work with him. I'm doing that. And he must be ready too."
Later, when it is put to Mourinho that Mata's numbers – 64 appearances last season, 20 goals, 26 assists – stack up as well as anyone's, he simply replies "yes" but declines to elaborate. The received wisdom is that Mourinho likes Mata a lot but he is going to be hard on him – that much is obvious.
For now Mourinho says that he sees Mata as a left-footed right winger. He is not prepared to ordain him as the team's No 10, only noting that he is "comfortable" playing there. The concept of the outside-in winger, the man who plays on the flank that corresponds to his weaker foot was, Mourinho says, his idea, starting with Joe Cole and Damien Duff on to Goran Pandev at Inter, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil at Madrid and now "with this kid Bertrand Traoré".
Mourinho recalls with bluntness how, in his first spell at Chelsea, he "made life difficult" for Cole. That was an understatement when you consider the criticism of Cole after a winning goal against Liverpool in 2004. "A No 10 [Cole] who was so talented that he makes two or three fantastic actions and people were amazed," Mourinho says dismissively. "We transformed that player into the kind of inside-winger, right and left, strong defensively. He was fantastic. I was so pleased with what we did with him."
It is notable that when talk turns to Mata, Mourinho at first changes the subject, pointing out that he created the players' player of the year award in 2006, in order, he hoped, that Claude Makelele would win it. Looking back over the records, Makelele did indeed win the award in its first year and you cannot help but wonder whether that was engineered by Mourinho, so keen is he to control every aspect of his squad.
"Mata won the fans' and the players' player of the year, so that means a lot," he says. "People love him, but also the fellow players love the work he did for the team. Of course, he fits in my plans. I know him quite well. I have my idea about where and how he produces better, and where he has more difficulty. But we are here to try and keep him performing, and try and help him to perform better in the situations where he finds it a bit more difficult."
This is not a squad of Mourinho's construction, but it is one built along principles of which he approves: a mixture of experience and young players who are already at the elite level but with great scope for improvement. That is where Mourinho comes in. "Go to score, go to produce," he says, as if Mata and Hazard are in the room. "Do not go to have fun or humiliate the opponent, or put the ball through their legs. Football is not this. Football is being respectful. Football is having objectives."
Jose on... Arsène Wenger
Jose Mourinho reveals he has developed a new respect for Arsène Wenger to the extent that the two have sat down for dinner together, a sharp contrast to the days when they endured one of the most embittered relationships in English football.
During the Chelsea manager's first spell at the club Mourinho most infamously called the Arsenal manager "a voyeur" for commenting on his rivals, prompting the prospect of legal action from Wenger.
But this week Mourinho said that after he left Chelsea in 2007, his feelings towards Wenger changed: "I started meeting him in Uefa, at the Euros, the World Cup, we had dinner and so on. And when you are not in the same league and when you are not playing against each other, it is easier to know people, it is easier to go deeper. It is easy to speak about football, he's a very nice guy.
"I respect him a lot and I will show my respect always. [In] football sometimes even if you are friends and respect each other, you say something the other doesn't like and you react. But at the end of the day I respect him a lot and I have the feeling that he is the same in relation to me. I wouldn't bet on one single problem between us."
Asked whether he felt Wenger had been harshly judged in recent years, Mourinho said: "In football you have to accept reactions. But I don't think he's affected by that. He's a big, experienced man, he has self-esteem, he knows what he did, he knows what he is doing. And to have the respect he has from his board is fundamental and it's not because of his nice face, it's because of the work he does and also because of the respect people have.
"So, for sure, he is happy to be there. As you know, he had all these chances to leave, all these good important clubs interested in him. So when he refuses and he wants to stay at Arsenal it's because he loves it there. It's because he has expectations for the future."
Jose on... Roman Abramovich
Jose Mourinho says he never doubted Roman Abramovich would be a long-term owner of Chelsea: "There was always the question, 'When is he going to sell it?' 'Is he in love with the club?' 'Is he in love with football?' 'Is he doing this for the right reasons?'"
But Mourinho knew the answer when the club started building [the new training ground at] Cobham. "Peter Kenyon [then chief executive] and I were worried about just creating the right conditions and having a good base. Roman was always going for more, always going for the future. He said, 'If we can build 15 pitches here, why build only four?'
"We said: 'Because four is what we need now – two for the first team, one for the reserves and one for the youth'. He said: 'No, no, if we can build 14 or 15, then do it for the future, for the kids. The thing is not just to have the reserves and the first team here, it's to have all the teams here. Why train at Brentford if we can have everybody here? So the academy has the same conditions as the first team'.
"Roman was very important. He made life easy for the new people [to buy Premier League clubs]. Because he did it in the right way he gave space for the new people to be seen as a good thing." Mourinho also recalled something Sir Alex Ferguson said when United won the Premier League in 2007. "I remember him saying, 'the reason Man United were so strong this season was Chelsea. Because in the last two years they killed us. We realised what we were doing was not enough'. So in that season, they spent and they brought Man United to that level of competition."
Jose on... Wayne Rooney
Chelsea could go as high as £40m in their bid to sign Wayne Rooney from Manchester United this transfer window.
The club have already had a bid of around £20m rejected by United but Mourinho has confirmed that the funds are available for him to bid more. Discussion of Rooney is off-limits at Chelsea under an agreement with United but in response to a question about the potential limits on his spending imposed by Uefa Financial Fair Play, Mourinho said his club "could still invest in a player that costs £20m, £25m, £30m. The club is ready for that."
Belfast Telegraph Digital