On the eve of Jose Mourinho’s first Derby della Capitale, the manager met with the media Saturday afternoon to preview the match, discussing his experience with derby matches, the team’s relationship with the fans, as well as Mourinho’s newfound relaxed persona.
Read the transcript published on the team website below, with some closing thoughts from myself on the presser.
You have already managed in 119 derby matches, across four different countries. How do you think this one will be different? And what sort of attitude do you want to see from your side?
“You are the ones who know all the statistics, I don’t pay attention to them. As I said at the time, I only knew about my 1000th game in management because the press started to talk about it. Now you tell me that I have managed 119 derby games. They are always great games to play.
“They are games that a coach doesn’t have to worry about. They don’t have to worry about them because there is no need to find a way to motivate your players. You don’t need to make sure your players are correctly focused. So they are great games to play in, but they are great games to prepare for too. There are no problems to worry about.
“Perhaps for the Udinese game there was a bit more to worry about, because it was possible everyone was starting to think more about the derby than the Udinese game. But with the derby, that’s never an issue – everyone is 100 per cent focused on the game. So that’s why it’s a great game to play in and a great one to prepare for.
“From my team, all I expect is the same thing that I’ve expected from them from the first day. We play to win. We know that we can’t always win, because we know on the other side there is always a side that wants to win just like we do. But the attitude I want to see from my team is always the same. We want to win. And when we don’t win, I want to come off the pitch with the feeling that my boys gave everything they had. That’s what I expect.”
This current Roma squad might be the least talented that you have coached since 2004 or so. Does that make it one of the biggest and most important challenges of your career?
“It’s a different sort of challenge. It’s a challenge without any doubts about things, though. From the first time I spoke with the ownership and with the General Manager, there have never been any doubts about the approach.
“We know what we are, we know what we want to do and where we want to get to. In the past I’ve coached at a few clubs where there were plenty of doubts. Here those doubts don’t exist. And, when there are no doubts, then it’s not the hardest challenge.”
Zdenek Zeman always said that the derby is just another game. Rudi Garcia, meanwhile, used to say that you don’t play in the derby, you just win it. Where do you fall in that regard?
“No, no. I respect Mr. Zeman, and I respect Rudi, so I won’t go and pass judgement on their words or say that I agree with one more than the other. I think the most important thing is to talk less and play more. You can talk a lot before the game, but then your words can all float away on the wind. Why do you need to talk? That’s what experience has told me.
“The moment of truth is out there, on the pitch. Not in here. I am here because it’s an obligation for you, it’s a a show of respect for you and the work you do and the people that read what you write and listen to your comments. But words are just that. Everything that counts is tomorrow. There on the pitch. From the first whistle.”
Lorenzo Pellegrini won’t play in the derby. He is your most important player, both in attack and in defence. Is there another player in your squad who can do both jobs tomorrow?
“We only have one Pellegrini. I don’t want to talk about that. For me it’s not easy to talk about Pellegrini right now. I could even say that tomorrow’s game really began in the last minute of the Udinese game: because having Pellegrini is one thing for us, and being without him is another.
“You have touched on different things. He’s important offensively, defensively, in pressing. We can talk purely about football, like that, but we can also talk about leadership, about influence, about communication – about being a good captain. But Pellegrini won’t play tomorrow.
“I think that your question is also to get an idea of who might play in his place, to find out how we are going to try and find the right solution for his absence. But I won’t tell you that. I will be very honest and just say ‘No comment’, I won’t tell you how we will play or which players could be involved.”
What do you make of the relationship with Roma fans, compared to other places you have experienced a derby?
“This week what has really struck me most is the way the fans were fully behind the players before the game against Udinese, even after the defeat in Verona. That shows that there is a bond there. Sometimes, after three wins, that bond can be a bit artificial – it can quickly disappear after a few bad results. On that occasion we were coming into the game having lost, having not even played well, but on the streets, as we were in the bus on the way to the game, on the pitch, when we were struggling, when we went a man down, when we could have seen the game slip away … in all those moments we felt the bond.
“I think the fans deserve the very best we can give them. But I also think the boys deserve everything the fans can give them. Right now, that’s what is happening. The fans are giving the players what they deserve, and the players are showing their respect for that by giving everything they have out on the pitch. I 100% feel the fans understand that the team trains hard and plays hard and warrants their passion.”
In 2010 you won the Scudetto thanks in part to a game against Lazio where the Lazio fans asked their players to lose [in order to prevent Roma winning the title]. Did that help you understand how deep this rivalry is?
“I’ve only been here a few months. I need to live through a bit more, I need to understand the details more. It’s one thing to observe it, it’s another to be in it and understand it all. Rivalry is a great thing. 100%. If you are the Real Madrid coach, and Barcelona aren’t going to win the league, then surely Barca fans want Atletico Madrid to win the title. If you are in Portugal and are the Porto coach, then Benfica will surely want anyone else to win the league other than Porto. That’s normal in a rivalry, that’s what makes it great. And that’s why I say that I love playing in derbies.
“It’s a privilege to play in another new one. It will be a privilege to have more knowledge through this experience. To really understand what the rivalry means. But, beyond the derby itself and what it means, I want my team to have that hunger to win the derby. It’s not our only target this season.
“But from that game in 2010 I remember that we ultimately won 2-0. In terms of the Lazio fans, you could sense that they weren’t really urging their side on. But we won there as we won a lot of other games during the course of that season.”
So far you haven’t fought with anyone, unlike in the past. Have you changed a bit?
“Give me a reason to fight with anyone. Give me a reason! There still hasn’t been one. The only thing that has really annoyed me is the red card for Pellegrini. But that’s happened. What can I do? Go and argue with the referee? And then he sends me off and tomorrow I can’t even be on the bench for the derby.
“When the time comes, naturally, whenever it might be, then it could happen – but I don’t need to go looking for fights with people. I respect them. The other coaches, the players, the referees. That referee [on Thursday] was young, he got it wrong, but he’ll be better next time. He has [former referee] Rocchi to help him improve. So there’s no reason to argue with anyone.”
What can some of the back-up players do to break into your team?
“I won’t argue with you, but, the question you ask me would be just switched around if I was giving 20 players chances, changing all the time. You’d ask, ‘Why can’t you pick a consistent team?’ That’s always how it is.
“At the start of the season there’s no tiredness, there’s no fitness issues, there’s a while before you reach the point where you need to rotate. So I think I’m doing the obvious thing. I’ve arrived here, we are playing in a different way than before, and we need to build a bit of consistency with that. We need to gain confidence in ourselves. A lot of the players who are not playing at the moment are really young, they are not quite ready to step right into the team, they too need a bit of time and patience. I think it’s all part of the normal process of things.”
Both Roma and Lazio will start tomorrow in pretty attack-minded formations. But will it be more important tomorrow for your team to be adventurous going forward, or focused at the back?
“A game like this requires everything. When we have the ball we want to play, to push forward, and try to score if we can. When we don’t have the ball then we need to be respectful. They are a good side, with an attacking way of playing the game. We will need to defend. It’s very hard to win a game if you play well in only one phase of the game. If we are going to win then we need to put in a very complete performance. We are going up against a very good side.”
Lazio press high up the pitch in a very collective way, but sometimes they can drop off that too in order to create space to attack. How important will it be tomorrow for you to cop under pressure? And are you thinking of a specific tactical tweak to address that?
“It’s a good question, just not one I like to answer. Because by answering I will discuss some of the key points to tomorrow. You have analysed the way our opponents play. I won’t go beyond the basics of our approach tomorrow: with the ball we want to score, without it we will need to defend as a team.
“Before I go, I just want to say that this is a very difficult moment for Nicola Zalewski and his family [after the player’s father passed away]. We will see tomorrow if he will be in the squad or not, it will be his decision and his choice based on how he is feeling during this difficult period. I would like him to be available tomorrow, I can’t deny it, but we will see how he feels.
“And, another thing, you guys forgot to ask the key question: ‘Will Matias Vina be there tomorrow?’ I think he will, I think he will.”
I think one of the more interesting responses that Mourinho gave was in his first, where he discusses how derby matches are great because they don't require you to supply any extra motivation to the players, the motivation is all there on its own. On the podcast this week, we discussed the possibility of Mourinho rotating some key players against Udinese in advance of Sunday’s match, and his team selection in that match ties right into his response here. Secure all three points against Udinese, bounce back from the Verona defeat, and count on the motivation of a derby providing an extra spark to the players who might otherwise have tired legs.
Overall, Mourinho stuck to the same script as he has in previous pre-match press conferences. Team chemistry, consistency, effort, and the support of the fans, all seem to be the main objectives for Mourinho at this point in the season, which you would hope translates fully to the pitch sooner rather than later. I liked that Mourinho kept his cards close to the vest on who will come in for Pellegrini, we all have our theories of course, but I’m very curious to see what setup the Portuguese tactician goes with, especially given the threat that Lazio pose.