Belfast Telegraph

Koeman can spot Mourinho mind games

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman has been friends with Jose Mourinho for a long time, so knows better than to get caught up in his Chelsea counterpart's mind games.

The pair grew close during their time working together at Barcelona as part of Louis van Gaal's backroom team in the late 1990s.

Koeman has fond memories of that time and the "very ambitious" Portuguese, even if he was "quiet" back then - an adjective rarely used when describing the Chelsea boss nowadays.

The pair have remained friends ever since and go head to head on Sunday, when Koeman leads surprise package Southampton out at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho courted controversy after the reverse fixture in December by claiming there was a "clear campaign" against Chelsea - inflammatory comments which were followed by the Portuguese showing a softer side.

"I spoke with him for 10 or 15 minutes after the home game with them, about life, about England," Koeman said.

"Maybe your opinion is different than if you see someone on the television. He's a great person and a very successful manager.

"In my opinion he's a nice person, but I've got the possibilities to have time to talk about different things in life.

"Maybe one side is what he likes to say or what he likes to do after the game. The other is the relation between two people.

"I think that's the difference, but sometimes he is playing a game. Everybody knows that.

"If it is done in a respectful way, then I don't have problems with that."

Koeman knows such controversial comments stem from a desire to protect his players, pointing to Mourinho's success everywhere he has been as proof that it works.

"In every sport and every business if you are one of the top managers then you have to live with critics, both negative and positive," he said.

"But if you look at his CV, it tells you enough. He's very successful and always has a good spirit in his teams.

"If you speak to players who have worked with Mourinho, they always are very positive about it and impressed with the way he does his job as a manager."

Koeman is looking forward to facing his former colleague at Stamford Bridge, where he will be hoping things will go better than his only other trip there as a manager, Valencia's 1-0 Champions League loss in December 2007.

As well as Spain, the Dutchman also spent time coaching in Portugal and his homeland before joining Saints last summer - a first voyage into English football and one he made without speaking to his old friend.

"I met different people and always they were very positive about the Premier League, about the possibility of the teams and the intensity in the games," Koeman said.

"But I wasn't calling him or other people to ask about the job because the feeling with the club and with the people of the club was more important."

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