Luis Bueno
Friday April 10th, 2009

For three consecutive summers, José Mourinho brought Chelsea to the U.S. for preseason training and friendlies against other touring European clubs and assorted Major League Soccer teams. Two years after his last trip, the Portuguese manager will bring a new team back to the States.

Mourinho's Inter Milan will be part of a four-team tournament this summer that will see him face his old club in Chelsea, his bitter domestic archrivals in AC Milan as well as Mexican giant Club América.

During the recent international break, Mourinho took a quick jaunt to Southern California to make some preliminary preparations for the so-called World Football Challenge. I was fortunate enough to sit down with him at a ritzy Beverly Hills locale to discuss all things football with the self-proclaimed "Special One."

SI.com: This series of friendlies seems like a good bit of action for Americans, but it's a lot of travel for Inter Milan. Why are you participating?

Mourinho: It's a big opportunity for Inter Milan to go abroad, because over the past five years, Inter always did the preseason in Italy [in front of] the fan base they already had in the country. This is the first big opportunity to come to the States and work the fan base that Inter probably doesn't have at this moment, despite so many Italians and second-, third- and fourth-generation Italian-Americans in the States. It's the kind of country where I would love to see soccer have a bigger impact, which I know is not easy because of the American culture of American sports. Every game will be an important one, a massive opportunity to show our game and to make people enthusiastic about it. I understand that MLS is becoming better and better but it's still very far from [European standards]. If soccer wants to go in the right direction in this country, this is the kind of opportunity to motivate people.

SI.com: Your first match in this tournament will be in the Rose Bowl against Chelsea on July 18. It'll be the first time you'll be facing your old club.

Mourinho: I think it will be good because we have great memories. I made them win lots of things from 2004 until '07. They made me win, too, because we won together. The relationship is fantastic. I think we miss each other. Football life is like this. I have a new life but friendly relations are forever. A good thing about this game is you never lose these kinds of feelings, these kinds of emotions. So for me and for them, I think if you ask them the same question, it will be the same. For 90 minutes, we are not friends anymore because this is the essence of the game, but we are real friends. I belong to their history and they belong to mine, so it will be a huge, huge, huge, huge pleasure to play against them.

SI.com: Since you left in September 2007, Chelsea in on its third manager. Why do you think that is?

Mourinho: When a club has a period of success, the next period is difficult because the expectations are very, very high. People adapt to work with somebody for a long period -- in my case, 3½ years. After that comes always a difficult period, which, after they get over it, the stability returns. A new coach returns with a new philosophy. [Chelsea] has quality, the club has potential, the club now has tradition. They know what it means to be successful. The stability will be back. It happened when I was at Porto. We won the Champions League, and the next day I left for Chelsea. They lost a bit of stability, had three coaches in the same season and won nothing. But after that, they returned to stability and once again became Portuguese champions. I think that will happen to Chelsea. They will return to stability because the players are very, very good. We made a team for the long-term. They're young -- the average age is 27, 28 -- so they have a team for the future.

SI.com: Are you disappointed that you didn't have a chance to see those players develop?

Mourinho: Yeah, a little bit. When you go to a club, you expect to stay for a longer time. But at the same time, it was good for me because, over 3½ years, we won championships. Sometimes it's better to change. This Italian experience is amazing because it's completely different. If you stay in the same country and you know everything about the culture, the football culture, it's easy to win because it's something you can control. You can reduce the improbability of the situation. When you change from country to country, it's more difficult because you need to arrive immediately and get results -- that's the ambition of big clubs. This Italian experience came to me at the right moment. I don't regret it despite being completely in love with Chelsea.

SI.com: In your first season with Inter, you're close to the Serie A title. How have you been able to adjust so quickly?

Mourinho: It's an ambition I always had and I never denied. I would love to win the three most important championships in the world, which are the English, the Italian and the Spanish. If I can get the Italian now, it would be an important step for me. It's a really, really difficult championship. I am the only foreign manager of the 20 in Serie A. It's not easy. That is a very specific culture of the game, which I don't want for myself. I don't want to lose my identity, so to fight against this tendency is even more difficult. The team I got was not a team to begin an era with because it's a team in the end of a period, a team with a very high average age. You have, for example, 12 players older than 32, so it's not a team to build for the future. I think I'm closing a period; if I do that with a victory in the Italian league, it would be fantastic, and the next season start a new period with younger people, with different kinds of ambitions, with a different kind of mentality.

SI.com: Tell us about some of the resistance you've met as a foreigner.

Mourinho: I come from English football, where everything is pleasure, everything is spectacular, everything comes from the heart. People are completely in love with the game, with the emotion of the game. They don't just want to win, they want to win in a certain way. Even when you play away from home, the fans are there, not just to see their team win but to also see a good game. It looks like the atmosphere is much, much better. In Italy, it's a bit like Portugal. That's maybe why I have adapted. It's a culture of a victory -- you have to win at any cost. Everything is about victories. In Italy, they have a natural tendency to be tactically very strong from the defensive point of view. It's very difficult to organize a team to win this competition.

SI.com: Do you think you might be able to help change that since you're the foreigner?

Mourinho: No. I'm fighting. I sometimes feel they are open to it, but sometimes I also feel they are not really in love with me, with my ideas and with that philosophy of change, so it's not easy. I am at a club where I know I have to win this championship to feel that I was successful. It's a fight, but it's a good fight. It's a good motivation. For a manager to be better day after day, we need these kinds of challenges of change. I think that helps me a lot to be better.

SI.com: There's a big rumor going around that you might be the one to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Is there any truth to that?

Mourinho: I know about the rumor. I know that I have big credibility in England. I know English football wants me to be back. I am in love with English football. I want to be back but I am with Inter. To be fair, I am close to Sir Alex. I believe it's not next season that he will finish his career. He's almost 70, but so strong mentally, so happy to work, always the same motivation year after year. I don't feel he's going down. I feel he's still in that platform of ambition. I don't deny that I am proud of being connected with such an amazing club like Man U. But I believe and wish that Sir Alex keeps going for a few more years.

SI.com: Would you consider the Manchester United job to be one of the best in world football?

Mourinho: Man. United is a top club, not just a top team but a top club with big prestige. In Italy, Spain and England, you can find a group of eight or nine teams that are top teams in the world. Man. United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, Milan, Juventus. The history of world football is about these big teams. So it's my ambition, of course, to be connected with them and to have results year after year that can keep me there.

SI.com: You say you consider the English, Italian and Spanish league titles to be the most important titles. You've obviously won the English title and are close to the Italian title. Do you see yourself going to a Spanish club in the future?

Mourinho: Yes, this is something I want to do: to win the three championships, English, Italian and Spanish. It's something that nobody has done as a manager, and I want to do it. I'm not the kind of manager to be in the same country for years and years. I know myself. I like new challenges. I am the kind of guy to always have challenges and win new trophies and it is a big motivation for me. After Inter, I know England is waiting for me and I love England, but for me the next step would be Spain.

SI.com: What do you see as the one or two biggest problems facing world soccer right now and how would you change it?

Mourinho: A big problem is the youth policy, which I always believe is the future of the game. Any club, even the powerful clubs with money to spend on mature players, should really care about local players and the development of youth. This season, it was a fantastic feeling for me to play on my team a 17-year-old boy [Davide Santon] who is now a main choice and everybody now recognizes that he will be an iconic player at Inter Milan. This is the kind of situation every club should care about. At the same time, FIFA is bringing to the game some rules about local players, a certain number of players to be local, not just foreign players.

My second point, which is in connection with this, is that we should have an age limit on player transfers. I am not a fan of a 14-year-old boy leaving his country to go immediately to a big club. They first must become a man -- they must have education, socially and culturally. I would probably close the door for transfers of players younger than 17 or 18.

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