Jose Mourinho put Premier League minds at rest on his first day at work as Real Madrid manager yesterday when he said it would be the World Cup in South Africa and not his new club's blockbuster signings that would make the news this summer.
Real's desperate need for a left-back of Ashley Cole's quality, Mourinho's close relationship with Frank Lampard and his previous attempts to sign Steven Gerrard have made the three England players targets for speculation, but the former Chelsea coach hinted that no signing this summer would outdo his own presentation as the club's new galactico coach.
"The truth is that the club is happy with the players from last season," he said. "We do not need big changes in this squad. We need three or four players so that we have a better chance of winning things but this summer the big stories will come from South Africa and not from the new signings that we are making."
Real Madrid borrowed considerably last season to fund a £250m assault on the transfer market that failed to deliver a single trophy. Part of Mourinho's appeal to the Real president, Florentino Perez, who has hired six coaches in his time at the club without winning a single major honour with any of them, is his ability to bring the best out of the current crop who so underachieved last season.
"It is very easy to link me with ex-players because I always have a very deep relationship with the professionals that I work with and that often continues after I have left the club, but we are happy with what we have," he added. "Jose Mourinho adapts to the players that he has and there are very few players that have not improved after working with me."
It won't be enough for the players simply to improve, with Champions League victory so important to the club, who have fallen at the last 16 stage for the past six years.
"We start from zero. It won't be an obsession – it will be a dream," said Mourinho of European success. "I understand the fans and the media will up the pressure, but it is not going to affect the way I do my job."
He will be charged with bringing the best out of last season's expensive recruits, who failed to give their president a return on his massive investment. Provided Kaka resists the call of his former coach, the Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, he will play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in the three-pronged attack Perez bought for the previous coach, Manuel Pellegrini. Benzema will be fresh, having missed out on the World Cup, so poor was his form for Madrid, and Ronaldo (left) will be asked to add team play to the 26 goals he scored – most of them self-created – during his first campaign in Spain.
Mourinho said: "I understand that he [Ronaldo] is an incredibly important player, but the most important thing is the team, not the coach or the players. We are very small compared to the size of this club. And if we work as a group then we will be successful. Cristiano is a winner and if he wants to win he will accept that team ethic."
Of course, when Madrid say there will be no big signings, they mean by their own standards set last season, when they filled their stadium to present €90m (£76m) acquisition Ronaldo. Two of the "three or four players" that Mourinho conceded would be needed are likely to be full-backs and Internazionale's Brazilian right-back Maicon is understood to be on his way.
The Inter president, Massimo Moratti, is determined to make Real pay the full €16m for their new coach, despite Madrid's claims that they have got away with paying just €8m. The remainder of his compensation is likely to form part of Maicon's move to the Bernabeu. And the Benfica winger Angel Di Maria is managed by agents connected to the Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes. He already has Ronaldo at the club and yesterday he watched his client Mourinho from the front row of the press room inside the Santiago Bernabeu. Mourinho has said that Di Maria will come "if the price is right, taking into consideration he has so far been playing in an inferior league".Reuse content