What makes José Mourinho special? Former players give Spurs an insight

Interviews by Fabrizio Romano, Nuno Travassos and Sid Lowe on 22 November 2019

Amantino Mancini (Internazionale, 2008-10)

José Mourinho is sincere, clear and says things to your face. He always gets the most out of his players. But the most impressive thing about José is his tactical preparation – he knows every player and every opponent perfectly. He always has the solution.

When you see him for the first time, if you haven’t worked with him in the past, he has an amazing impact. I remember the first meeting when he arrived at Inter, I heard him talk and I was shivering. At every word I thought: “Jesus, this guy is really amazing.” In training you need to go a thousand miles an hour and always be concentrated. If not, José will realise within 30 seconds and starts to look at you from far away. Then it’s your problem ... but he’s also such an expert he can figure out if someone is tired. He always has everything under control, on the pitch and off: this gives his player a rare level of confidence.

It was almost mythical to enter his office. He would call you and tell you everything he thinks to your face: he can be thrilled with how you are working or very angry because you aren’t giving your best or even give you news about your future. He says everything to your face which in football is rare.

One time Mourinho called me and he asked: “What is happening Amantino? You don’t feel well?” He always notices from a player’s face, by how they practise, if something isn’t going well. The result is you have a manager who is like a shrink, an open book who is never fake. This transmits strength and calmness.

I remember the day he told me I had to leave. He called me in his office and he said: “Amantino, I see you don’t play often and you aren’t happy. I think it’s best if you leave.” I understood him completely and we agreed, like men. He understands every situation.

One time we were playing in the Champions League against Panathinaikos. The first half ended, we were winning 2-0 in Athens. I had scored, I was very happy, I entered the locker room and José cornered me: “OK, you are playing like crap. You have to improve some more, don’t think you gave everything with that goal.” He made me focus 300%, but I had just scored and we were winning.

Nuno Valente
(União Leiria, 2001-02 and FC Porto, 2002-04)

José has an intense way of working and is tactically very strong. Through his words he is able to convince players that he’s the coach who can make them win titles. He likes to joke around a lot and, if the team wins – like we did at Porto – then even more. There is always pressure at clubs like these who are the top of the table but, when things are going well, the environment is different. José is happy.

But when he needs to criticise a player, he has no issues about doing it in front of the whole squad. Sometimes José has had problems with players because the mentality is different from the 1990s, for example, and egos collide. But as a person and coach, he’s spectacular, and I’m sure the Tottenham players will like him. I know that José is very happy to be back in business and has found a project that should seem interesting to him. It’s the kind of challenge he likes.

For now he will fight to put Tottenham back in the top four. Going for the title is very difficult but in the coming years, with some signings, it will be a goal. He likes challenges and Tottenham don’t win titles for a long time. They picked him up to put the bar at the highest level. Pochettino has done a good job but José can give the final touch for Tottenham to start winning titles.

After almost a year out he has had a long time to reflect. We could see a different Mourinho, perhaps even with a different way of playing. Surely he learned from what happened at Manchester United?

Nuno Valente, left, and José Mourinho, right, celebrate winning the Champions League with Porto.
Nuno Valente, left, and José Mourinho, right, celebrate winning the Champions League with Porto. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Álvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid, 2010-13)

The first time I saw what José was all about came in a pre-season game in Los Angeles when we were losing 2-0 and, wow, he gave us a real going-over. That was the moment when you see that he doesn’t care who you are, who the star names are in a dressing room: he makes the same demands of everyone; you’re all treated the same way. That’s when we realised what he was like, who he was. I imagine that at Tottenham they’ll see that when they see the demands that he makes of all of them.

When there is change made in a bad situation, there’s always a positive response, this current of optimism, and I think José will try to take advantage of that. I have spoken to him a little bit over the last few months when he wasn’t coaching and I think he is very conscious of all the good things he has: he is a coach who prepares games really well. When you turn up for a match, you understand very clearly why you’re playing with this system, why you’re playing with these players, what it is you’re trying to do, which parts of your team he is trying to strengthen, how he wants to go about finding the weaknesses of the opposition. You have a very clear gameplan and you understand very clearly what the mission is. And, above all, why. He’s very good at that, he knows. And that won’t change.

José’s also capable of reading a game very well and making you see at half-time where your errors lie, what the other team are doing, what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and how to change that. That’s the thing I would most highlight about him: of all the coaches I have had, in that aspect he is definitely the best.

So, he knows his strengths there and he also knows that there are things he has to improve; he’s conscious of that: in the playing model, in the relationship with players. I saw him the other day explaining that at Porto he had certain players and played one way; that at Inter he defended with a low block because he had great defenders who could play that way; that at Madrid he worked on transitions. He adapts to the players he has.

But it’s true that his teams are very, very well-organised, teams that are quick to go for the other team’s goal. They’re not teams that hold on to possession; rather, he prefers them to be quicker, more direct, and go straight for the opponent’s goal. At Tottenham, with players like Dele Alli, Son, Harry Kane, I think he has players that fit that very well. And I am sure that he will make the most of them.

He is conscious of the fact this is important for him, too: I don’t know whether to call it an opportunity, or vindication, a need maybe, the chance to make a point, because things didn’t go the way he would have liked in Manchester and he knows that it’s a chance to prove how good he is. And that’s good for everyone. He’ll come with the same intensity, the same work and that extra motivation.

Esteban Granero (Real Madrid, 2010-12)

I’m very happy that Mourinho is working again because it’s the thing he loves most. I was with José for two years between 2010 and 2012 and he is the best coach I have had. He’s capable of bringing the best out of all his players, allowing them to reach their potential. He’s very methodical and flexible too, able to protect his players at the same time as demanding the most from them. This is one of his great virtues. He’s won a lot during his career but it’s not just the medals that make him a winner: ‘winner’ is something that defines his personality, not dependent solely on the number of wins. He’s a coach that leaves a mark on you and I only wish I had worked with him for longer. I am sure he will enjoy his time at Spurs and I wish him the best.

Interviews by Fabrizio Romano, Sid Lowe and Nuno Travassos

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