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The Look

Mr José Mourinho

The Chelsea FC manager shares his secrets on leadership, his all-time fantasy signing… and his basic need for doughnuts

If the greatest football manager in the world could pick any player from any era, who would he choose? The answer is not what I would expect from Mr José Mourinho – but then again, little is with the manager of Chelsea FC. As the 52 year old settles in at his favourite table at La Famiglia, just a few minutes’ walk from his team’s stadium in Stamford Bridge, he orders a bowl of penne arrabbiata for lunch. For those unfortunate few who live in a land where the beautiful game is not played (or where the FA Cup is not given at least as much consideration as the results of the national election), allow me to explain why Mr Mourinho’s choice matters.

The Portuguese former gym teacher has achieved something few other managers in sport have: winning four domestic league titles in four different countries – starting off with Porto in his native Portugal, then Chelsea in England, Inter Milan in Italy and Real Madrid in Spain. Now he’s back at Chelsea, where he’s almost certain to start the ball rolling again with another premier league championship this season. So who is the one player he would love to have signed? Pelé? Becks? Sir Bobby Moore?

“George Best. I’m serious. I’m serious,” he quickly adds in reaction to my cocked eyebrow. After all, Mr Best was a player whose prowess on the field was equalled by his libertine excesses off it; one who, you’d imagine, would be difficult to manage. “George Best! He was amazing. Amazing! And he was 30 years ahead of his time. This guy today would be pppphhhhwwwww...” And he’s lost for words. Mr Best must strike a chord with a man of Mr Mourinho’s vintage – after all, he is written into Portuguese football folklore. When Mr Best was 19 (and Mr Mourinho a three year old), he scored two goals in a European Cup quarter-final match against Benfica. And, like Mr Mourinho, Mr Best had something of the rock star about him, dubbed by the Portuguese media “O quinto Beatle” following his teenage feats.

This is just one of several surprises, as Mr Mourinho, whose full name is José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix, shares his secrets to being a successful manager.

When asked what makes a good leader, he gives a revealing answer. “I think respecting people you lead is vital. For sure, it’s not that they fear you.” In fact, he says, if the people you are in charge of fear you, the likelihood is you are not a great leader. “They don’t fear you, no. They believe in you, they trust you and if possible – this is the ultimate level as a leader – they love you.”

Chelsea captain Mr John Terry recently described Mr Mourinho as a master of man management, and praised him for reviving his career at a time when he was being written off as past his gone-off date. “It’s just inspiring and, for me, there’s no one better at drawing the best out of people than José Mourinho.” Talking about Mr Mourinho’s first stint at the club, he said: “He made a group of players – good players at the time – feel like we were the best in the world. Whether we were or not, we felt it. You see that in the performances as well.”

Mr Mourinho says that he has no heroes in management, but he is always learning from his rivals. “I try to learn from every experience – and when I say experience I mean every match, and every match has an opponent, so I think this is the best way to respect other people: to say I learn with every experience.”

With only a month ’til the British general election, the topic is a timely one. I ask the self-proclaimed “special one” what he could teach the world’s politicians about leadership. He demurs, and says nothing. But within seconds he’s explaining exactly what’s wrong with politics. “Politicians need credibility. They need people to believe in them, they need people to feel they respect them, they need the people to feel they want to make our lives better. The same way that my players must feel – I want to make them better players, I want to make them win money, I want to make them have a better future for them and their families. So this is about trust.”

Mr Mourinho did not set out to be a leader, and his path to becoming one was atypical. His dream as a boy growing up in Lisbon to a large middle-class family (his father a football manager, his mother a primary school teacher) was to be a great footballer, but he never made it as a professional. So after stints teaching sport, and working as a translator (he speaks five languages) for former England manager Sir Bobby Robson at Porto and Barcelona, he eased his way into management. “My passion is football, but it was never my intention or obsession to be a leader. To be a leader was just a consequence of the evolution of my job. I started as an assistant coach, and I became a manager 15 years ago. ”

Joining Mr Mourinho at the interview is his daughter Matilde, 18, who after finishing school has ambitions to work in the fashion industry. He looks at her lovingly when she joins us, almost purring with pride. He says family is the most important thing in life for him, and away from football that’s all he’s interested in – Matilde, his 15-year-old son (José Jr) and his wife (Matilde senior). He has their names tattooed elegantly on his wrist like a bracelet. Of all the countries he has lived in, he says he feels he most belongs in England. “I need what England gives me in my social life. I’m very private, my social life is very quiet, but I like the basic things of life. And in Italy and Spain it is difficult to keep the basic things of life.”

What are those basics? “I live in central London, I open the door, I walk, I shop, I go to a brasserie, I have a doughnut.” Would he allow his players to eat doughnuts? He looks at me as if I’m mad. “Yes, of course. People are obsessed with not eating, passing up food… the pleasure of eating prepares you for the next day of work.” You work harder if you’ve pigged out? “Of course. Happiness is very important.”

It’s funny how different you are from the intolerant, raging Mr Mourinho we often see on television, I say. He smiles. You seem so scary on TV, I say, but today you seem rather shy. “I am shy. I protect myself. When I am with people I trust and people I know well, my family, my friends, I am myself. After that I protect myself. People know me from what they see on television in pressured moments in matches where I’m there to win and at press conferences where I’m there to defend myself, so this is what people see.”

Does he ever think, when he explodes on TV, “God who is this monster?” “No, no. I never regret that because it comes from my heart, the emotions. I’m not worried about being politically correct or to say what people expect me to say. I normally say what I feel, and I don’t think of the consequences. I feel more worried about the consequences if I don’t say it, if I keep it to myself.”

Likewise, he thinks the media get it wrong when they portray him as a style icon. The Spanish edition of Rolling Stone put him on the cover in 2011 and dubbed him Rock Star of the Year, thanks to his “controversial message”, “brazen intelligence” and “provocative attitude”. Mr Mourinho insists he has nothing of the sartorial guru about him. No, he says, he is more of an elegance-is-refusal type of man. “There are certain brands I don’t wear.” Such as? He thinks about it, and decides he means more colours than brands. “I would never wear a red shirt or a red blazer. Or a yellow tie. No I just like to wear grey, blue, light blue, dark blue, white... you open my wardrobe, and you see white, grey, blue, light blue, dark blue.”

Mr Mourinho says when the media talk about his appearance or rock star qualities, they do so only because he has achieved so much in football. If he hadn’t, nobody would give two hoots about his perceived cool. “The reason you become this and this and that is because you’re good in your job. Instead of 21 silverware, if I have zero silverware you wouldn’t speak about what I wear or the way I look, so everything starts with success.”

What does Mr Mourinho think his legacy will be? Rather than the trophies he’s won, he talks about the way he has redefined what makes a good manager. Pre-Mourinho, the consensus was that you had to play at the top level to manage at the top level. Not any more, though. “I think now people who were not great players have an easier life than I had, because I was one of the first guys to break that barrier. When I started it was difficult for people to believe that some guy who was not a top player could be a top manager in football, and when I won the Champions League for the first time more than 10 years ago at Porto, I broke that dogma – that to be a top professional manager you have to be a top professional player.” He says that some people say this is because the game has changed, that it has become more technical and academic, but he’s not having any of that. “What I really think is that you can become a great manager not because you study a lot, but because it is a talent.”

With that, Mr Mourinho stands up, thanks us for our time and strolls on to the streets of Chelsea with Matilde. Enough talking. Time for family and doughnuts. Time for life.