With the international break finally in the rear-view mirror, and on the eve of his 1000th game as a manager, Jose Mourinho met with the media to discuss several topics including: Zaniolo, Pellegrini’s renewal, and expectations for the season following the closure of the market.
Read Mourinho’s press conference in full below.
The dynamic between club sides and international ones has been an ongoing issue in football. There are footballers who are only returning to their clubs a day or two before games resume. What do you think about it all?
“My thoughts? You’re right, it’s a problem that’s existed for a number of years. But you are also right to say that it is difficult to find a solution. Clubs and countries have different interests. Different interests, and also different institutions overseeing them. I have decided not to waste time trying to come up with solutions for things I don’t have any control over.
“Obviously, in our case it’s tough to accept that one of our players is involved in a game at midnight on Thursday and only arrives back in Rome on Saturday morning. Perhaps we are lucky that it is just one of our players, though – maybe other clubs are in even more complicated situations.
“But I’ve decided not to cry about it, not to be negative about it – I want to be positive. There’s nothing we can do about it anyway, so we have to deal with it.”
First of all, congratulations for reaching 1000 games in management – and for getting congratulations from Sir Alex Ferguson for the milestone too. After that, though, I want to ask you about Nicolo Zaniolo – what level is he at now and did you expect him to be at this level at this stage in his comeback?
“Thank you. I will take this opportunity to thank the League Managers Association, that have put me in their Hall of Fame of 1000 Game Managers. That’s a great thing. And obviously I want to thank Sir Alex, as his words carry a huge amount of weight – in a good way.
“I also want to thank Sassuolo coach Alessio Dionisi for his words. They left me a bit humbled. I have a lot of respect for him, and for this new generation of coaches who are coming through alongside him. Like [Vincenzo] Italiano, like others. A journay that has already seen them reach this level, where they deserve to be.
“Now, as for Zaniolo, the club were cautious with him last year because there was already the chance that Nico could begin training with the first team before the end of the season, play a few games or be in a few squads and then maybe go to the Euros. But the club was cautious with him, the boy waited until the time was right, and that shows maturity.
“He didn’t immediately start working with me this summer. For different reasons I could not start coaching the team before July, but a few of my assistants came beforehand and started working with him a few weeks before I arrived. But a lot of work was done last year, with Paulo [Fonseca] and the rest of the guys here. The club did well with him. This year the progress has been measured. He needed to recover, emotionally as well, because injuries of this type always leave a mark on a player for a while.
“He took his time, and he did really well during pre-season too. Right now he has forgotten about what he had to go through, he feels confident in his body, he has confidence in those that are working with him. So he’s doing well.
“I think it is also a good thing for him to have someone like Carles Perez around. Because the great Carles Perez from Barcelona we haven’t seen in Rome just yet. But this year we are seeing a confident Carles Perez, and when he plays he plays well.
“They both play in the same position and that’s great for them and for the team. For Italy, Nico played as a No. 9 too. That was a tactical choice from Roberto [Mancini] – he didn’t discuss it with me but I respect his ideas, the national team, and whatever he wants to decide to do with Nico.”
Is Zaniolo right now the player you remember before his injury? And then, given it’s your 1000th game, does he remind you of any players you’ve coached in your career?
“It’s easier for you to make comparisons between the Zaniolo of before and after his injuries. But when you make a comparison like that, you are also making a comparison about a boy who is older than he was two years ago. He’s had the chance to think about his life, one he was living at 200km/h. He’s more mature now.
“Can he still get better? Of course. I would be a terrible coach if there was nothing I could still teach to a 22-year-old lad. He absolutely still has a lot to give and to learn. He needs to learn the game, learn how to play in different tactical setups. He needs to understand better how to play against a team that sits in a low block, or against one that presses higher up the pitch. He still has a lot to learn, but that will come with experience.
“But he’s a boy that likes to learn, he’s very professional. Some of the research I did before I arrived, people told me that at times he lacked maturity, he didn’t take responsibility. I can only say the opposite. Even the red card he got against Fiorentina, with two yellow cards, wasn’t a stupid red. He wanted to help the team, he wanted to have a positive impact on the team. I can only speak well of him. Our relationship is good, it’s calm, it’s very open. He feels comfortable with me, I’m pleased with him.
“As for comparisons with other players I’ve worked with, you know I don’t like to make those. But there are not many players with his potential, both physically and in terms of technique.”
Did you expect Tammy Abraham to make such an immediate impact? And has Pellegrini accepted your advice to sign his contract extension now the international break is over?
“With Pellegrini, I think that every day that passes means we are one day closer to him signing his new contract. I don’t think there is anything to worry about. I really want it, the club really wants it, he really wants to stay with us. Everything is really close to a positive conclusion.
“Obviously the agent wants to do the very maximum for his client. He wants to be here with us and be part of our project. When I arrived I wanted to understand things, I wanted to learn about all the players not just as individuals, but also how they fit in the group. Even when Edin Dzeko was here I didn’t want to make a decision about who was the captain. I wanted to understand the group dynamics, the culture, the personalities. Without saying it publicly [before], Pellegrini will be with us for many years and he is our captain. Gianluca Mancini is the vice-captain and Bryan Cristante is the third.
“Having said that, a captain needs to be for today and tomorrow. That’s why I never said before now that Pellegrini was our captain – before he signed his new contract. But now I am convinced he will sign it very, very soon. I can say he will be our captain for many years to come, with two great captains to support him.
“As for Tammy Abraham, as a player I expected the impact he’s had – but there’s always doubts attached to where he’s come from. He’s come here from London, his home, where he was living with his family. And a boy from London will always be a boy from London. Not many of them leave. So the only doubt was about him adapting to being here.
“But that doubt has gone now. I think he is really, really happy to be here. He’s already really integrated well within the group. He has friends, he has a life here, a life outside Trigoria too. So I am really happy with him and I think he is really happy with us.”
There’s a lot of discussion at the moment about playing the World Cup every two years – what do you think about that? And do you think you have been changed by coaching against some of the new generation of coaches you have mentioned?
“I don’t want to talk about national teams. When, one day, perhaps when I am 80 years old, I am coaching a national team – then I will answer this question. Right now I don’t want to answer it.
“As for the other part, I wouldn’t say so. I have changed, of course I have, like all of us change. Even you, perhaps, had a bit more hair in the past … I have lost a bit too. It’s natural that things change over times. The different things we now have at our disposal, in terms of analysis, have perhaps changed ideas and changed the way we work. When I was at Barcelona or Porto [before starting as a coach himself] I was the one who analysed the games. I had to go to the stadium with a pad and paper.
“That was how we did match analysis back then. When I got home, if I was lucky enough to have a video of the game, I had to put it in the video player and watch it back. Things are completely different today. So that has changed the analysis, changed the work that is done.
“I wouldn’t say that now it is easy because of all the information we now have at our disposal, but you have to be better at deciding which information needs to be transmitted to the players. Yesterday we had a meeting that lasted eight minutes, today we had another of eight minutes. But I spend eight hours a day with my staff, for three days in a row, to get to that point. Football has changed at this level. And if we say that we don’t want all that, then we would be wrong.”
The transfer window is now closed, at least until January. Do you think that Roma have closed the gap on their rivals?
“We’ve played two games. Not 20. After two games the distance to Inter is not going to be 29 points. We have the same points, but they’ve scored a goal more than us. Right now we have five points more than Juventus. But I don’t care about that. It doesn’t mean anything. We are not in a period where we can think about others – we need to focus on ourselves. On our development as a team.
“In January, after 20 games, we will see where we are and where the other teams are. At that point we can start to have certain discussions. Right now though we can’t afford to do anything else except focus on the next game, about playing well and trying to win. I liked something Max Allegri said, when he said that in the end it’s the results that matter. He was right to underline the importance of getting points.
“We can’t hide from that. We are in a different place to some of those other teams. Juve, Inter, Atalanta – their ambitions are very clear. But we are a team that are under construction. If the fans are happy, then I am happy, but we can’t start thinking that we are already a great side. As someone has managed 999 games I can say I am pleased – but also that I’m staying calm.”
How are Pellegrini, Zaniolo and Chris Smalling doing?
“They are all fine. Everyone, except Matias Vina because he only returned an hour ago, has trained and all of them are available for tomorrow.”
Roma now have seven games over the next three weeks. Are you thinking about rotation?
“I have not thought about rotating things because I have not thought about the seven games yet. I know what you are saying, I know it well, because I have a board in my office with all the matches – but I am only thinking about tomorrow’s game. I’m not even thinking about the one after just yet.
“So tomorrow there won’t be rotation, we will pick the best possible players for this game. As has already happened, if in one game Carles Perez plays and Zaniolo doesn’t then that’s not rotation in my book, that’s a choice. When you have good players in the same role then that’s having options.
“At right-back, Ibanez can also play there. Obviously he’s not an offensive full-back like Rick Karsdorp is, but he’s a solid full-back. He played there during pre-season, he can fulfil that role.”
The transfer window has closed. Can you find some extra experience within the group you already have available to you? Or are you thinking about making a move in January?
“One important thing I have to say is that myself, the General Manager and the ownership are all in complete agreement. If I say I need another player, then they don’t say no. We are all in agreement. But, sometimes, circumstances mean that it is not possible.
“You can’t buy experience, you build it. We can’t add any players until January, so we need to focus on the players that we have here. Like Reynolds, Zalewski, Bove and Calafiori. They will have the chance to progress. The truth is we cannot compare our squad with the other clubs at the top of the table, there’s a big difference. But we don’t want to talk too much. I trust in the boys. If they need to play, they can play. Then let’s see what happens when we get to January.”
Are you more worried about the players who need to recover from international matches, or making sure the concentration is there for a tough game on Sunday?
“None of you have asked me a question about Sassuolo … I need to talk about Sassuolo. They are a tough side. And I don’t just say that because of the results they have picked up against Roma in recent years. I say that with full knowledge. They are a tough side, we will have to play really well if we want all three points.
“I will pick the players that can do well for us. I’m not thinking about the Conference League, I’m not thinking about those who were with the national team – Cristante and Mkhitaryan played 90 minutes just two days ago. We will have another look today, but they seem well enough to play.
“Mancini and Pellegrini have recovered without issue. Zaniolo too. So we are ready. We will try to win the game.”
Reading through the interview, I was curious as to when questions about the Sassuolo match would pop up, so in true Mourinho fashion, he hilariously brings up the lack of Sassuolo questions right at the end.
Overall, a pretty interesting presser from Mourinho. I think his lack of interest in discussing the international break and his quotes on Zaniolo were particularly interesting, it’s clear that he wants to manage expectations for the 22-year old, and the team as a whole, as he once again discusses taking the season game by game and letting the chips fall as they may. Mourinho naming Pellegrini, Mancini, and Cristante as captain, vice-captain, and third captain, respectively, was also telling. It’s clear that all three have taken to Mourinho and he has taken to them, and was a tremendous vote of confidence in the trio.
Here’s to hoping Mourinho caps his 1000th game in charge with a win!