Jose Mourinho will face Chelsea for the first time as Manchester United manager on Sunday and the Reds boss has discussed his return to Stamford Bridge in great detail, providing an assessment of his exit in 2015/16, his relationship with Roman Abramovich and his standing among Blues supporters.
Looking back, how do you feel about the way you left Chelsea?
Some managers, when they leave clubs, they like to… in Portugal, translating into English, we say ‘wash the dirty clothes’ and it means to speak about what happened. To go back to speak and speak and speak. I left the club with a very good feeling. A feeling that I gave everything to succeed, I gave everything to the club and I don’t want to go back and speak especially about the bad things. I keep the good things and in Chelsea I had so many good things, so many good things in terms of results and so many good things in terms of friends that I have for life. I have an amazing empathy with the supporters. The supporters didn’t change their relationship with me because of last season and a couple of months of bad results. So I keep all of these good memories. There are things that I don’t forget, but I keep them for myself.
Is the owner still one of those good friends?
He was never my friend. We always had the relationship of owner and manager. It was a very respectful relationship. You are not a friend, you’re not close to each other. It is just a person that I keep respect for.
What kind of reception will you get from the Chelsea fans, and do you care?
To say I care is not true, because to be honest when I go to a football match I don’t focus on that. I am more focused on the game, I try to prepare myself for the match, so I cannot say that I care. What can I expect? I don’t know. They can think about me and remember our great relationship and have a good reaction, or they can look at me and think for those 90 minutes that I am the United manager and he is playing against us so he is not somebody that we like at the moment. I did my job and they gave me their love, and they gave me their support. That is the most important thing. Now, I go there as Man United manager and if they decide to have a different approach then I will always respect that. For me, what you are not going to have, ever, is a bad word about any one of my previous clubs, any of the fans who have supported me, so I always keep a very good feeling and it doesn’t matter what is going to happen. But it is my nature, it is my nature, it is my club and obviously I go there to try to do my job.
How difficult is it to visit a club with which you have such an affinity with the fans?
I have to try to forget it and try to do the job, you know? I played there with Inter and I tried to do my job. If you ask me if my team scores a goal, am I going to celebrate like a crazy kid? No! I think I can emotionally control that situation. Am I going to have any negative reaction if the crowd has something negative with me? No! Again, I have the maturity to control that emotion. But, what Man United fans can expect from me is more important in this moment and what the Man United fans can expect from me is that we will play against Chelsea in the same way I played against Fenerbahce, Liverpool and everyone.
Are you a better manager because of those difficult final months at Chelsea?
No, that period came at a period of my career when I was already a grown man. I was already a stable manager, emotionally strong. I was not a kid. It didn’t happen in the first years of my career. It happened when I’d already had so many years, so I think I got it in a positive way. I was lucky to have a big club like Man United that focused on my career and not on my last three months. I was lucky enough to have the chance to stay in the competition that I most love and to stay in a big club like Man United, with a big project and a big challenge like I have in my hands. So everything is positive.
As a title rival, how important is it to beat Chelsea at their stadium?
You look to the table and the distances are so short. It looks like the team that wins three matches in a row is immediately in the top three or four. The team that has a bad run, just a couple of results, goes immediately out of top four. But honestly, it looks like it is going to be tight. We are in a period where some teams are having easy fixtures and if they win two or three of those, with ones playing in between them sharing points, like what happened in Liverpool, or Tottenham against Liverpool. In a couple of weeks it will depend on one win and another one losing, they get the draw and the other one wins two consecutive matches to go there. So my feeling is that it will be close and probably one team that is playing for the title in March probably doesn’t finish in the top four. I think it is going to be really tight.
Could we have six or seven teams going for the title in April or May?
It can be that way, also because the other teams can steal points. So it can be tight, probably not six, probably three. Probably during the run, somebody will fall a little bit. I am not a gambler but if I was, I would not bet a lot on the title because it is a big risk of losing money. I would bet a lot on the top four.