Mourinho’s second spell at Chelsea ended acrimoniously when he was dismissed in December 2015 but, after a difficult start at United, his team are undefeated in the Premier League since October and up to fifth in the table. In an exclusive interview with France Football, to be published on Tuesday, the 54-year-old talks about the importance of establishing “peace and love” in the squad.
“Mourinho the man tries to be the opposite of what the manager is,” he said. “He tries to be discreet and calm. To find a way to disconnect. I can go home and not watch a football match, not think about football. I can do that. At the start of my career, I couldn’t. I was switched on 24 hours a day. I had to find a kind of maturity. Today I feel comfortable with my personality as a man.
“I’ve matured, I’m more at peace. A win no longer represents the moon to me, and a defeat no longer means hell. And I think I can transmit that serenity to the people who work with me, my players. I have the same ambitions as before, the same involvement and the same professionalism. But I am more in control of my emotions.”
Mourinho won the league in his second season back at Stamford Bridge but his relationship with the players seemed to suffer after he fell out with the team doctor Eva Carneiro at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. At the time of his dismissal Chelsea were 16th in the league and had lost nine of their previous 16 games.
At United he seems to have a better relationship with his squad. “You have to adapt to a club’s reality, needs and demands,” he said. “That means being intelligent … the priority is to establish relationships of love and peace in a group, to create stability. Manchester United no longer has the super personalities that were Giggs, Scholes or Roy Keane.
“Rooney and Carrick are still here and they are the last remnants of that generation, and then there is a new group of players that has to adapt. That’s why it was important for me to bring in Zlatan [Ibrahimovic]. In this team, and without being English and knowing the culture of the club, he had the personality and profile to be more than just a player.”
Mourinho does admit that England, of all the top leagues, is the toughest to win because there are so many clubs who have the financial power to sign the best players. “In England the clubs are so powerful economically that the market is open to everyone,” he said. “Take the example of Bayern in Germany. Do you know when they start winning the title every year? The previous summer, when they buy Borussia Dortmund’s best player! Götze, then Lewandowski the following year, then Hummels last year.
“Me, I came to a club with a great and prestigious history but that can no longer have things all its own way. No club in England, whether that be Man United, Liverpool or Manchester City, can dominate forever. Power is divided. Everything is harder: buying, winning, building.”
United have won the EFL Cup, reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and are in the last eight of the Europa League. Mourinho has complained about the fixture congestion that resulted in United playing on Monday (Chelsea), Thursday (Rostov) and Sunday at noon (Middlesbrough) before the international break.
Mourinho believes he has created a strong enough bond with the players for them to overcome these difficulties. He also says he has learned how to treat contrasting groups of players differently to get the best out of them, saying the Internazionale squad with which he won the 2010 Champions League responded well to his abrasive methods and “would follow him everywhere” whereas other players react better to a different approach.
“From a psychological point of view, the stronger the empathy in a group, the more substantial the bond is between players and the more you are ready. Mind games, which consist of moving someone psychologically via the media, is a way of creating a state of mind, but it is most effective when you have a team full of personalities and that is ready to absorb this type of discourse.
“At Inter, I was like a fish in water in that respect. I had Materazzi, Cordoba, Ibrahimovic, Milito, Thiago Motta … guys who were ready to follow me everywhere. It’s a different thing to work in a club where players don’t have the same profile. So before heading in any direction, the first thing you have to do is understand the people with whom you are working.”
United’s derby against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium has been rearranged for Thursday 27 April (8pm).
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