Jose Mourinho: 'It's time for Rafa and Liverpool to move up a gear'
It is time for Liverpool to make their move in the Premier League. Forget all the hype about this summer's transfer saga with Gareth Barry, forget the newspaper stories about the relationship between the manager and the owners and forget about that performance in Liege last week -- I honestly believe this could be Liverpool's year.
The manager, Rafa Benitez, arrived in England at the same time as me and is now beginning his fifth year at the club. I always said that my Chelsea team would not be at their best until I had five years with them and the same should now be true at Liverpool. It has been the same group of players and the same management structure for the past four years. Weaknesses are exposed in that time frame and dealt with.
Of course Liverpool supporters have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years -- they won the European Cup. But, as all football supporters know, a championship-winning side is so very different to one that can win the Champions League. Teams are separated in Champions League finals and semi-finals by details. Details like disputed goals and penalties. To win a championship is about more than details.
It is impossible to win the championship without a world-class goalkeeper and a world-class striker -- and Liverpool has both of these. Last season, when the club bought Fernando Torres, the spine of the team was completed: Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Torres.
Reina underlined his importance to the team again on Wednesday night with his penalty save against Liege -- and I know from first-hand experience that his penalty saves are no flukes -- while I think everyone knows the respect I have for Gerrard. It just seems incredible to me that he has gone this long without winning a league title.
As for Torres? Benitez should take enormous credit for not only bringing Spain's superstar to Anfield, but making him a better player too. You saw him grow through last season and at Euro 2008. He will score at least 20 goals again this season. With Robbie Keane at his side, maybe he can even break 30 in the league.
On top of all of that, Liverpool also has Anfield on their side -- and they must use that to their advantage soon to win a title before they move grounds. It is an incredible stadium. I have so many emotional memories of taking my Chelsea team there and I quickly learned what a tough, tough ground it is to visit.
My happiest memory was a 4-1 league win there in 2005. It was the season after our first Champions League semi-final defeat there. My team was fantastic that day and it was one of my most satisfying games as Chelsea manager.
Of course, Benitez being in his fifth year hardly compares with Arsene Wenger in his 12th at Arsenal or Alex Ferguson in his 22nd at Manchester United -- that is serious continuity. And of course they will be serious challengers for the title again. People think that these two managers may have some problems this season because of a couple of player issues -- but I cannot see the problem for them.
Yes, Arsenal have lost a couple of very important players again but Wenger knows how to cope with that. He has had to deal with losing Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry in recent seasons and he has always rebuilt his team with youth, and they always play in a very attractive way. Now they have lost Mathieu Flamini, who I look forward to coming up against in Serie A this season. But Wenger has brought in Samir Nasri, who can be a big star this season. People expected a lot from him at Euro 2008 but France were so poor that it was difficult for him.
I always tell my clubs that we do not buy players on the back of one tournament because a player who is special for 15 days is not necessarily going to be the same over a long league season -- but Wenger had Nasri in his sights well before the tournament and knows a lot more than most about how special he can be. We must also wait until August 31 to see what else Arsenal will do. You never know what secrets clubs have in their offices.
One story that has not been so secret this summer has been that Real Madrid wanted to buy Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. All along I thought that if there is one man in football who is strong enough and has the right mentality to deal with it and keep the player, it is Alex Ferguson. His experience, knowledge and power at his football club meant that it was never going to be a problem for him. So long as the player now returns from injury with the same motivation for the club and can produce something like the form he showed last season then any supporters that are thinking of giving him a hard time will not. It is as simple as that. Alex knows what he is doing and they must trust that.
Of course my battles with Alex are one of the things that I am going to miss the most this season.
For three years it was just the two of us, challenging for honours. For two of those seasons my team was just too strong in the league. We beat record after record, were unbeatable at home and we also did so many important things like scoring lots of our goals in the first five minutes of games.
But Alex was able to raise his game and he rebuilt his team with the right blend of youth and experience to get back to the very top. I would like to think that perhaps we had something to do with that. He came back to win consecutive titles and then the Champions League last season. Yes, they needed penalties to win the final against Chelsea but they had already got past Barcelona to play Chelsea in the final and, even though it was not a very strong Barcelona team, this was still a great achievement. I like Alex because even if there was one word or a little fight before the game, then afterwards everything was over. He is a true gentleman.
I see that Chelsea are at home against Portsmouth on the first day of the season, which is very interesting for me -- I have not followed Phil Scolari's pre-season at all but I am sure he is feeling no more pressure with his new club than he did taking Portugal or Brazil into major international tournaments. But he will find it a difficult opening game against Harry Redknapp's side today.
Harry is a manager I like very much. He teaches his players so much more than just football. I bought Sulley Muntari from Portsmouth to Inter Milan this summer and when he spoke about Harry to me he used the phrase "father figure" and that is exactly what I think Harry is -- and how I think a good manager should be.
His teams always play with a smile on their faces and that is all down to him. He sees the bigger picture and in that respect he reminds me a little of Bobby Robson.
Bobby has been a winner all his life because he could see the bigger picture. I had the great honour of working with him at Barcelona and he would speak a lot about the pressures of his job as England manager. I really didn't know what he was talking about until I arrived in England. I realised then just how difficult it must have been to be the national team manager for eight years.
To put up with all that he put up with, he deserved to take England to a World Cup final. But he didn't have that bit of luck.
Losing on penalties in a World Cup semi-final, a little like losing on penalties in a Champions League semi-final, these are details that can make a difference to a career. But Bobby had a beautiful career. He is a true footballing legend -- and there aren't too many of those.