José Mourinho wants to spend the next phase of his career back in England. And he intends it to be a prolonged sojourn, more like Arsène Wenger’s 13 years with Arsenal than his own stint at Chelsea, from whom he parted in September 2007 having won the Barclays Premier League twice, the FA Cup and the Carling Cup twice.
Mourinho, who had three full seasons at Stamford Bridge after making Porto champions of Europe as well as his native Portugal, is in his second season with Inter Milan and on top of Serie A, having already celebrated one national title in Italy, his fifth over seven seasons in three countries.
But he yearns to settle down and “create something deeper”. He believes that England is the place to do that. “England is the country,” he said. “And my football is English football.”
England would be glad to have him back any time. From the day he arrived in West London — he initially settled his family in a house in Chelsea and remembers walking to his first league match at the Bridge, against Manchester United — and reminded the media that we had encountered no ordinary coach out of a bottle but a “special one”, to his final wrangles with Roman Abramovich, we were usually on his side.
Yes, Mourinho “shushed” Liverpool fans at the Millennium Stadium on the day his Chelsea took their first trophy, the Carling Cup, and later, when Rafael Benítez’s team knocked them out of the Champions League at Anfield, he sneered that his men had lost to an inferior side.
Yes, he behaved badly in spreading the accusation that Frank Rijkaard, the Barcelona coach at the time, had obtained admittance to the room of Anders Frisk, the referee, at half-time. After Frisk had quit the game in disillusion, a leading Uefa official dubbed Mourinho an “enemy of football”.
But Mourinho, by and large, was among friends in English football — and the feeling was reciprocated. Not least by the media, who would hang on his every word, enjoying the disdain for clichéd thinking or phrases.
His inclination to return was outlined this week at Inter’s Appiano Gentile training ground, on a relatively quiet day when he conducted light sessions with players not claimed by the international break and devoted attention to young hopefuls; a task Mourinho enjoys more than is generally understood.
“I want to build something,” he said, and the revelation will interest every ambitious English club except Chelsea, whose politics and philosophy caused Mourinho to become increasingly restless once the glow caused by his immediate success had faded.
This eventually led to his disaffection and replacement by Avram Grant, who was ditched despite Chelsea’s appearance in last year’s Champions League final. Then came Luiz Felipe Scolari’s eight-month reign and the temporary stewardship of Guus Hiddink — and now Carlo Ancelotti.
Mourinho argued that the top clubs in the Premier League other than Chelsea shared “the English culture of stability” and it will not have escaped his notice that the newly super-rich Manchester City aspire to be a top club. Despite an insistence that the owner, Sheikh Mansour, is happy with Mark Hughes, they are bound to take note of Mourinho’s intentions.
The depiction of the Premier League as a haven of constructive peace may nevertheless cause some wry amusement in certain quarters, not least to Benítez at Liverpool, where the American owners’ truce has a patched-up feel and speculation about the manager’s future is near-continuous. But Mourinho’s vision of the upper levels of our game is not wholly fanciful.
Benítez has, after all, been at Anfield since around the same time as Mourinho joined Chelsea. Each came to England in the summer of 2004 having newly landed one of the European trophies. The Spaniard had made his name with Valencia, who won two national titles and, in succession to Mourinho’s Porto, the Uefa Cup.
Wenger has managed Arsenal since the autumn of 1996, while Sir Alex Ferguson, the daddy of them all, arrived at Manchester United some ten years before that and gradually rebuilt the first-team squad, taking 6½ seasons to win his first league title while revamping and extending the club’s youth development structure.
Now Mourinho yearns to build in his own way.
“Clearly it is unrealistic to expect to stay at a club as long as Sir Alex, but I am ready for the next phase of my career,” he said. “I want to work with a different perspective.
“At Porto, my objective was to win to earn the right to go abroad. At Chelsea, my ambition was to create a bit of history [the club had not won the title for half a century]. But I always knew Chelsea lacked the normal English culture of stability.
“I was never under any illusions. I understood the personality of Roman and the culture of the people around him [Mourinho carefully exempted Peter Kenyon, the outgoing chief executive, from this] and knew it was not a job for ten years.
“My role was to give this man what he wanted — victory — knowing that, sooner or later, my time would finish, because there were too many things going on around me.
“In Italy, I was coming to the motherland of tactics, the country of catenaccio and defensive football. The objective was to win not only in a third different league but a place where they say foreign coaches have had little success. But the time will come for stability.
“I love Inter and would love to build for the future here. In fact, I am doing it now, because I am not a selfish coach and I’m thinking about the future in terms of youth development and the age structure of my first team — but Italy is not the country for this. England is the country. And my football is English football.”
Mourinho keeps in close touch with the English game — he greeted me by asking how likely it was that the idea of Celtic and Rangers joining an expanded Premier League would find favour — and would settle easily if he returned at the end of this season, once the Serie A and Champions League campaigns are over (the latter may end more quickly than Mourinho would like if Inter lose away to Barcelona, where once he studied under Sir Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal, on Tuesday week).
Although he greatly enjoyed living in London, Mourinho would happily head north, countering suggestions that Liverpool or Manchester may not quite be able to rival Milan for architectural and cultural merit with a smile and a dismissive: “I hardly know Milan — I live near the Swiss border.”
So both Manchester clubs will take interest: City in case patience with Hughes runs out and United for when Ferguson retires, as intimated, at the end of this season or next. A building job will be required — team and stadium — at Liverpool if Benítez goes. Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, have ambitious plans for a new home.
Even Newcastle United may hold some appeal if only a convincing owner with lots of money could be found. All in all, it is a fascinating prospect.