When Rio Ferdinand met Jose Mourinho

Mourinho tells Ferdinand before the season’s kick-off why he loves English football even more now, where Cesc Fabregas fits in to his Chelsea plan and why he can never replace Frank Lampard. Jack Pitt-Brooke listens in

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho has reasserted Frank Lampard’s status as an immortal Chelsea legend, by telling Rio Ferdinand during a pre-season event at central London’s BT Tower that there will one day be a statue of the midfielder outside Stamford Bridge.

Lampard, Chelsea’s highest ever goalscorer, left the club this summer after 13 years at Stamford Bridge. He now plays for Manchester City, one of Chelsea’s main title rivals, on loan from their affiliate side, New York City FC. While Chelsea have signed Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona for £26m, Mourinho insisted that even the Spaniard could never be a true replacement for Lampard, given his status at the club.

“Frank is Frank, he is irreplaceable, no chance. We have to forget Frank because as you know he is a very special man but very, very special player.

“I think we can never say, in spite of Cesc, who is a fantastic player as you know, you can never say, ‘This guy is coming to replace Frank’, because Frank is Frank,” Mourinho said in conversation with Ferdinand, predicting that the 36-year-old would be  immortalised in stone. “One day he will be with Peter Osgood in a statue because he’s fantastic.”

While Fabregas cannot replace the heroic status of Lampard, he will be an important addition in central midfield. Chelsea failed to win the Premier League title last season in part because of their failure to beat strugglers West Ham, Sunderland, Norwich and West Bromwich at home.

By signing Fabregas, Mourinho hopes to improve the quality and imagination of Chelsea’s midfield play this season. “Fabregas is the player we need to modify a little bit the profile of our game, which we need,” Mourinho explained. “We want to give the next dimension to our game in midfield and Fabregas is this kind of player which I like to call ‘the 7’, because he’s not the 6 and he’s not the 8.”

“Normally the 7 is the winger, I also call the 7 the guy in midfield who’s not the 6, he’s not the 8. Or he’s a 6 and 8 at the same time. So he’s a 7 and we need him a lot.”

Although last year was a rare trophyless season for Mourinho, he said that he was delighted to be back in English football, which he said is the best in the world. “I feel too much connected with this country, it’s not my country, obviously, but I feel too much connected with this football country, and at Chelsea we want to make something to change it,” said the Portuguese, hoping to leave a legacy to the English game. “I know what makes me be happy every day.”

VIDEO: Jose meets Rio trailer

While the Premier League might not boast the very best teams in Europe, Mourinho said that the competitiveness of the league, and the capacity of almost every team to beat every other one, was what made the division so special.

“For my concept of league this is the best,” Mourinho insisted. “You can tell me, ‘Maybe Real Madrid is a better team’, than our top teams. Or maybe Barcelona two or three years ago, or Bayern. But for me the best competition is not the competition that has the best team in a certain period. For me the best competition is the real competition.”

Even if it was the resilience of bottom-half sides that held Chelsea up last year, Mourinho said it was something to be applauded. “You go every stadium you don’t know the result, Man United lose but they know that next week somebody will lose,” he said. “If I am not wrong last year, last season in the first eight fixtures, never have the top five won together. Every one somebody was losing points, somebody was dropping points.

“We are not dropping points because we are not good enough, we are dropping points because the other teams they are really competing against you. And for me this is fantastic.”

The deep competitiveness of English football also extends to the cup competitions, where Mourinho relishes the interest relative to other countries. “The cups are also another world, another world, in Madrid the only match with full stadium in the cups was the finals. In Italy we had cup matches of 5,000 spectators. Here, you play at home against Wycombe and this full stadium and big emotions, so this is my football country.”

While the rivalries are fierce, Mourinho spoke of the mutual respect between different groups of supporters, with whom he feels a different sort of attachment. “In this country I love a lot of things,” Mourinho explained, “the atmosphere in every match, the relation we have between all of us, the empathy I can create, not just with the fans from my club but also with the ‘football enemies’. I walk in the street and I feel that in London with Arsenal supporters, with Tottenham supporters, no problems.”

Watch the full interview in news and information show SportsHUB from 3pm on BT Sport 1. BT Sport, free for a second season, will bring fans 38 exclusively live Barclays Premier League games, starting with Manchester United v Swansea City on Saturday 16 August from noon.