He’s the self-anointed “Special One,” and Jose Mourinho lived up to the tag again this week with his keynote appearance in the United Soccer Coaches convention.
Tottenham Hotspur’s charismatic Portuguese manager touched on several North American soccer matters in a nearly-hour-long online conversation with USC past president Joe Cummings, including some praise for MLS and the steadily-increasing ranks of Canadian and US players shining on some of Europe’s biggest stages.
“Lots of good players. Lots of good players, in Germany, in England, even in the [Champions League], the players are coming and the players have quality,” Mourinho said. “You can find different qualities in the players, it's not like everyone is a technical creative player like the Chelsea boy [Christian Pulisic].
“I think there are quite a mixture of qualities and of course these competitions in Europe, they give them this, I don't want to say tactical culture, because maybe in US you work amazingly well with the players, but I would say this competitiveness. It’s hard, and the calendar is very hard, so they get this resilience, they get adapted to these intensities. So I think you have the players to have a very interesting national team.”
He also revealed that he catches the odd MLS match on British television now and then, and pointed specifically to Vancouver Whitecaps product Alphonso Davies, perhaps the crown jewel of MLS’s growing focus on youth development so far, as proof of a new market for elite European clubs to peruse.
“When I can and when the time difference allows me, I watch sometimes MLS matches. I know that you have in this moment also lots of foreign players coming from Central American countries and others, but there are still good [homegrown] players coming and you give them the opportunity,” said Mourinho.
“To be honest, the example of the Canadian boy [Davies] in Bayern [Munich], this is the kind of situation that opens the eyes to European scouts. In this moment European scouts, they have an eye on MLS, I promise you that. People now they believe that they can scout and they can find good players in there, so the production is very positive.”
Mourinho has made clear his appreciation for the United States, particularly in the context of holding summer preseason camps here, and more than a few fans and pundits on this side of the pond have daydreamed about the former Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Porto manager someday bringing his talents to North America full-time.
Though it wasn’t in the explicit context of the US or Canadian national teams, Mou spoke expansively on his interest in someday trying his hand at international management, even as he termed himself “too young for that” at this point in his career.
“I want! I want, I want, I will not finish my career without that, for sure,” he said. "I want to have that experience. Of course the great motivation is to play [in] the Euros or to play the World Cup, of course that final phase is the salt and the pepper, of course I want to do that. But to do that, you have to qualify, unless you coach the team that hosts the event.
“But my question many times is, if we all know that there is no time to work, if we all know that is difficult to know the players in that, if we all know that the number of training sessions compared with the club is minimal – if we all know that, why [do] the majority of the national coaches, they keep selecting players and players and players, and in the end of a season, they had 60 players in the national team? For me a national team has to be coached like a team. An open team, let's say an open squad, but you cannot select 50 players in the season. You must objectively work and decide, these, let's say 25 players are my squad.”
Might this sort of approach, executed at the high level of expertise Mourinho is known for, reap greater rewards for the USMNT or CanMNT? It’s a fun topic to ponder.
“In North America I don’t know, in your competitions, Concacaf, I don't know the direction. But in Europe the players, they go, they don't go, another one goes, another one doesn't go. In the end of the year, they don't have a pattern of play. They don't have a team. They don't have a philosophy, they have nothing,” he said. “It’s just a group of players that, they go together because they are very good players. They are very good players, but they don't know how to play together. They don't train enough, they don't have enough stability in their work. So yes, one day I want to do it.”