Had it not been for his wife’s advice, Jose Mourinho might be in Rio de Janeiro right now, preparing to lead England into the World Cup.
But Matilde Mourinho pointed out he would be bored senseless by the longueurs involved in managing a national team and, at the 11th hour, he withdrew.
Had Mourinho taken the job it is a safe bet John Terry would be in the team, and so would Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United striker has come in for uncommon criticism in the build-up to the tournament in Brazil, notably from former colleague Paul Scholes, but Mourinho is as much a fan of Rooney now as he was when trying to prise him away from Old Trafford last summer.
“I don’t agree with Scholes,” said Mourinho. “I think Wayne is right when he says this is ‘his’ World Cup, it is the right moment [for him]. He is not a kid any more, he is not an old player at the end of his career, he is in what I call ‘the best age’. I think it is his World Cup. I think he has also a role as a leader in the team, a little bit similar that he had at United this season. I think he is ready to cope with this.
“Maybe the fact that the season was not good with the club, maybe that can also play a positive role, a role of somebody who is a natural winner, somebody that every season normally wins something. The fact that this season [he won] nothing I think can play a positive role in his ambition, in his anger to succeed. I have faith that he can do it.”
Mourinho, speaking in his role as a Yahoo WC Ambassador, had less certainty over England’s prospects. “If England is world champion it is not a surprise for me. If England is knocked out in the group phase, it is not a surprise for me. England is the kind of team where I am always expecting something good, but I am never surprised when things go wrong.
“When people speak sometimes about there not being enough quality in the team I always disagree. I remember the England team in 2004, the European Championship in Portugal. People were saying that the team was not good enough but it was full of top players from the top teams in the country. Now you have some boys who are not in the top teams, but you have players from Chelsea, from United, City, Arsenal, Liverpool. You have quality, you have experience, you have international experience, you have everything, so why not be a candidate?
“When I was almost, almost, almost England manager I was asking myself all these questions and I couldn’t answer.” Maybe, Mourinho added, it was because the press and public do not unite behind the team while the competition is ongoing, but instead are frequently critical or still blinded by club loyalties.
“In Portugal there is a period of complete support where the players feel the support. Even if you don’t agree you close your mouth, the team is the team. The moment the team is out of the competition – let’s go and kill. I’m not sure with the mentality in this country people are willing to be like that.”
Mourinho came close to making the challenge of winning the World Cup with England his own in 2007 after Steve McClaren was fired. He was living in England, happy here, but out of work and barred from joining another English club under the terms of his departure from Chelsea. So he was tempted.
“At that time I had no job and I was at home for about two or three months already after I left Chelsea. I wanted the job, because of the prestige, because I want to stay in England, because I couldn’t get an English club for two years because of my contract. So I had reasons to accept.
“Another reason to accept was Frank Lampard, John Terry, Joe Cole, all the guys, say: ‘Come, come, come, everybody wants you. The guys from the other clubs, from Manchester, from Liverpool, they call us and say, “Tell your boss to come, blah-blah-blah,”’ so I have lots of positive things to push me.
“But my wife she says, ‘It is not a job for you, what will you do during the week?’ I say, ‘I go to see the players training in their teams. I will ask permission to go with them and to be with them and to have individual coaching with them. I have work to do. I can improve things. I am not going to stay at home. I have to travel. I want to see the players. I want to participate in their evolution.’ But in the end she was saying, ‘No football, no matches, it’s not for you’.”
She was right. “I cannot wait two years for a big competition,” Mourinho admitted. “I cannot be two years playing against Kazakhstan, San Marino.”
Picking up a pen, and pulling a piece of paper towards him, he made as if he was about to sign, and said: “I was this close. This close. But it was not a job for me seven years ago. It is not a job for me now. I don’t think it’s a job for me in seven years’ time, I think it’s a job for me in 15, but not seven, for sure.”