Jose Mourinho: 'It's not life or death, Chelsea will be either first - or first'

When he arrived, he was regarded as arrogant and overbearing. But Chelsea's Thinker-man demands wide respect
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Jose Mourinho is rather tickled by the hyperbole surrounding this afternoon's west-north London derby, particularly BSkyB's portrayal of the event as "Judgement Day", in which he and Arsène Wenger are depicted as Arnold Schwarzenegger-style celluloid terminators. "We must sell our product," he insists with a positive attitude not necessarily prevalent among his peers. "You press and media people, you give a big help in selling our product. I think that is great."

As long as everyone appreciates that such an image is essentially a myth - that is the unspoken addendum as the features and tone of the Chelsea manager develop rather more gravitas when he speaks of his own perception of a confrontation between Arsenal, now in third place, and his own Premiership leaders.

"The reality is that we enjoy this game," he says. "We don't look at it as 'Oh! [he imparts a kind of mock-doom to the expression] Judgement Day'. I'm certain Arsenal will be the same."

Nevertheless, headlines such as "You're scared of us" (Didier Drogba's reported remarks about Arsenal) and Ricardo Carvalho's quoted observation - "We are going to Highbury with a cool head, knowing it is Arsenal who must gamble. They have fear and nerves, and that is never good" - will have done little to suppress the passions surrounding the match.

Mourinho is determined to defuse such potential incendiary devices. He scoffs at the use of Carvalho's words. "I read what he is supposed to have said in the newspapers today; yet he speaks no English," declares the manager contemptuously. "He can say 'Hello' and 'Goodbye'. That is all."

It is evident that, if there is any attempt to engage in warfare, robotic or psychological, with Wenger, it is well concealed. Earlier, Mourinho had dismissed any notion that this would be his most "signif-icant" fixture thus far in his career in England by reminding us that Chelsea would remain leaders, regardless of the outcome.

Presumably this was essentially a matter of relieving his players of pressure? He denies that is the case. "If we are cool it is because we know after the game that we are still top of the League, and after that we have two matches at home probably to win again and keep our balance. Maybe that's a consequence. But it's not life or death; it's not a final; it's not win or lose." He pauses and the eyes sharpen. "For Chelsea on Sunday, it's not to be first or second. It's to be first - or first."

Uttered by some one can think of, such a statement would prove an irritant, but though that healthy self-belief in his own abilities and that of his team was derided initially - remember all those snide references to the fact that he started out as "Bobby Robson's interpreter at Barcelona"? - it is now begrudgingly appreciated, even by those without any Chelsea affiliation.

Firstly, it is tough to argue with the manager of a team who have been defeated only twice, once in the Premiership and once in Europe, at his previous club Porto last Tuesday. A team, it must be stressed, now capable of regular bouts of goalscoring. Secondly, Mourinho harbours respect for opposition managers, is as honest as you are ever likely to find in his profession and, perhaps most importantly, claims to possess a high regard for English football and its disciplinary processes.

It was not always thus, of course. Not in his pre-Premiership existence. He was "sent off" and subsequently suspended for preventing an opposition player (Lazio's Lucas Castroman) taking a throw-in at a crucial moment during a Uefa Cup semi-final game. He explains: "I did it by instinct. It wasn't that I was waiting for a chance to interfere with the game and stop the opponents' throw-in."

Now, however, he is a different personality. "Everybody learns through mistakes, and English football is changing me. Maybe I have a better control of my emotions. Because I tell you, if in Portugal a referee doesn't give me a penalty, like he didn't give at Aston Villa, or he didn't give me against Fulham, I open my mouth. But I know if I open my mouth in English football a lot, I have to go for a visit to the FA, I have to be in the stands for a few weeks, I have to pay them enough to have paid for my Christmas gifts. It's helping me to change a little bit."

He adds: "I don't lose my emotion for the game, I don't lose my desire to win. But it's taught me better fair play and better relations with the other people involved in the game."

That suspension meant that Mourinho was not allowed to communicate with his players after arriving at Lazio's stadium in Rome for the second leg of that tie. For the coach, it was more than an inconvenience. "What it came down to was that I wasn't going 'into battle' with them," he recalls in a new book, written with a Portuguese journalist friend, Luis Lourenco. "I cried because I couldn't be 'in the war' with my men." To overcome such an adversity, he watched the game from the stands, aided by a "small, sophisticated communications device" to enable him to keep in touch with his coaching staff. During the game, he reveals that he encouraged his team "to pressurise officials".

Here, his approach towards officials has been so transformed that Mourinho could seek part-time employment as a referees' publicity officer. "It is very difficult in England to get a card, if you keep your discipline and play fair," he claims.

So, how does he explain Arsenal's poor record? "I don't know. Maybe some of them [cards brandished] are in matches against Man U only," he says wryly. "Sometimes your statistics are influenced by something out of context." Do they strike him as more aggressive than other teams? "I don't feel that. I feel they have players with a big status in English football, like Vieira, Henry and Campbell, and because of that, sometimes they feel they are at another level, that they can play a different way, or they can speak to the referee in a different way, but I don't think they are more aggressive than other teams."

Mourinho speaks to us at Chelsea's training ground near Harlington, sited between the M4 and the runways of Heathrow Airport. There is a curious contrast between such a relic of a bygone age, the kind of location where Sunday players would change, and the Ferraris, BMWs and top-of-the-range four-wheel-drives of the multi-millionaire artistes parked outside. Yesterday was their final day of practice there. This week, the players and backroom staff transfer to their new £20 million training ground at Cobham in Surrey.

Mourinho insisted on us meeting some of his lieutenants, the majority of whom have followed him from Porto, and they duly file in: Baltemar Brito (assistant manager), Silvino Louro (goalkeeping coach), Andre Villas (assistant coach), and Rui Faria (fitness coach).

It reminds you just how much a footballer's life has changed since Chelsea secured their one and only top-division title 49 years ago. Indeed, it was one of Mourinho's predecessors, Ted Drake, the man who inspired the Blues to that championship in 1955, who introduced a then novel approach to training. Fitness became paramount. Then it was nine laps of the track (the old greyhound track at Stamford Bridge), followed by curious log-heaving exercises to strengthen the upper body. Before then, training was "mostly left to the players themselves", according to the 1955 captain, England's Roy Bentley.

Today, under Mourinho's direction, and his "bible", another name for his training file, match preparation could not be more comprehensively organised. Paramount is how the threat of the Premiership's top scorer, Thierry Henry, will be negated.

"We must try to control not only his movement, but what the team tries to create for Thierry Henry," says Mourinho. "We have studied what he does, yesterday and today, and have tried to practise defensive movements to counter his attacking play. We know everything. The difficult thing is to stop him from doing it. But I think we are ready to try to fight him."

Mourinho, who reveals that Mateja Kezman assumed the Henry role in training, adds swiftly that such tactical swotting on the opposition should not indicate fear. "That is not the right word here," he says. "They are not afraid of us. We are not afraid of them. We respect them, because we know they have a good team; they respect us because they know we have a good team."

He is reminded, however, that Arsenal were "The Invincibles" until they lost to Manchester United. Since then, their confident stride has faltered. Could the same happen to Chelsea, should they be defeated? "If we lose on Sunday, we beat Norwich in the next match," he maintains. "And we're still top of the League." Another pause. "Again."

Call Mourinho what you will: confident, self-possessed, or even overbearingly arrogant. While his team's progress continues to match his faith, both in his players' and his own capabilities, few will condemn a manager whose bloodlust within the Premiership has transformed him into a Portuguese man of gore.


Jose Mario Santos Mourinho Felix

Born: 26 Jan 1963 in Setubal, Portugal.

Managerial career: Benfica (2000-01), Uniao de Leiria (2001-02), FC Porto (2002-04), Chelsea (2 June 2004-now).

Honours: Portuguese League (2003, '04). Portuguese Cup (2003). European Cup (2004). Uefa Cup (2003). All Porto.

Background: never a professional player. Father Felix was Portugal goalkeeper. Low-profile positions at Estrela Amadora and Vitoria Setubal before working under Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon in 1992. Moved with Robson to Porto in 1993. Both went to Barcelona in 1996. Robson left Barça and Mourinho worked under Louis van Gaal. Appointed to his first full-time manager's post at Benfica in 2000.