Jose Mourinho takes a swipe at Arsene Wenger
Jose Mourinho began the new season by taking aim at the managerial records of some old rivals, including Arsène Wenger, on Friday as part of an impassioned defence of his own recent performance.
The self-styled ‘Special One’ has not won a trophy for two years and, although two Champions League semi-finals and top three finishes in both the Premier League and La Liga are respectable seasons, there has still been a dip in the spectacular results he achieved from 2002 until 2012.
Chelsea are favourites to win the Premier League but, asked if he himself felt under pressure, Mourinho said: “Why? Some, they have 10 years to win something. I have only two?”
Wenger’s name was not mentioned but the point of reference appeared obvious enough. Mourinho won league titles in seven out of nine completed seasons with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid until 2012 but has seen his teams finish behind Barcelona,
Manchester City and Liverpool over the past two years. Had it caused him to question or challenge himself? The response was similarly bullish. “I’m not a very intelligent guy to choose teams,” he said. “I like to work. I like to build. I don’t like easy jobs. I don’t like to get clubs worked by other managers before me. I don’t like to arrive on time to collect the fruits off their trees.
“I came to Chelsea at a moment when one team was over and another needed to be born. At the same time I came to the only league where four, five, six teams can compete for the title. So I’m not good in choosing my jobs – or I’m good because I choose jobs I really love.”
When he spoke of managers collecting “fruits” off established trees, he again did not mention names but you had to wonder whether he was referring to the fabulous situation that Manuel Pellegrini has inherited at Manchester City or Pep Guardiola at Barcelona and then Bayern Munich.
Mourinho was similarly uncompromising when asked if he would try to avoid last season’s controversies with referees. “They had a run-in with me not me with them – ask them,” he said.
Mourinho, though, is certainly making no attempt to minimise expectations on Chelsea and was happy to declare that his team are “title contenders”. Such confidence rests heavily on the additions of Thibaut Courtois, Filipe Luis, Cesc Fabregas, Didier Drogba and Diego Costa. “At the end of the season you, the supporters and the players will judge my work,” said Mourinho. “And most important, my boss, my owner, my board will judge my work. During my career, the years with more success were the years where I had exactly this feeling. When I like my players, I work well.”
Chelsea begin their season on Monday against Burnley and the big decision for Mourinho is whether he starts with Courtois or Petr Cech as his goalkeeper. The expectation is that it will be Courtois and, with Chelsea still needing to limit their number of non-homegrown players by one, Cech could conceivably also still leave. Mourinho will announce his team to the players on Sunday and there will be no personal explanation to either Courtois or Cech.
“All I can say, with all my respect, I think Chelsea have two of three best goalkeepers in the world,” said Mourinho. “This is something unique. The best way for me to work is to think pragmatically in a cold way. Try to hide the emotions around these situations and decide what I think is the best for the team.”
Mourinho is also adamant that there would be no question of favouring Courtois because he has only two years remaining on his contract and Chelsea might like to tie him down to a new deal.
“Team selection is my responsibility and the club is completely correct with that,” he said. “So my decision will be a lonely decision. I’m not going to say ‘the goalkeeper will be…’ I’m going to tell them ‘the team will be…’ I always tell the group. And when I tell 25 guys, it’s also 25 agents, 25 journalist friends and very soon it becomes 100 and more. So, by Monday morning, everybody knows.”
Mourinho stressed that, once his decision was made, there would be no question of rotating his two goalkeepers in an attempt to keep them both happy. “My No 1 will be my No 1,” he said. “Not forever obviously because I cannot kill competition. I cannot give any player a guarantee. Obviously you don’t change a keeper if he makes a mistake but you can change him if he makes five.”
Mourinho also suggested that either man would contemplate their future if they were dropped on Monday. Asked if Cech could leave if he was not selected, Mourinho said: "Or visa versa? If Petr plays Courtois can think about leaving? In this moment they are working well and hard and we are so happy to have them both. I prefer to analyse this in that perspective. During the season if one is definitely my first choice I have to support and stimulate the other one."