José Mourinho tells UEFA.com why Real Madrid CF's recent UEFA Champions League disappointments make his job harder while stressing the hunger for success in his squad.
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Ahead of Thursday's UEFA Champions League draw in Monaco, José Mourinho sat down with UEFA.com to discuss the challenges he faces at home and in Europe with his new club, Real Madrid CF.
The Portuguese coach, who guided FC Internazionale Milano to the trophy last season to emulate his previous success with FC Porto, has wasted no time in revamping the Madrid squad, signing the likes of Mesut Özil and Ricardo Carvalho even as stalwarts Raúl González and Guti departed. He explained why Madrid's recent struggles in the UEFA Champions League have made their task all the harder but underlined the hunger in his squad, saying the players "are not in a comfort zone".
UEFA.com: Would you have liked to have still had Raúl in the squad?
José Mourinho: Yes I would because he's a symbol of Madrid, a symbol of a great professional, a symbol of a Madrid winner and a historic club figure. However, at the same time, I think he is a player who deserves the freedom the club gave him to decide on the direction he wanted to take in his life. He is an intelligent man who wants to play every game and he understood that with Gonzalo Higuaín and Karim Benzema – two 22-year old forwards – that the space around him had changed; he took a brave decision.
UEFA.com: Could Sergio Canales be the new Guti?
Mourinho: I don't like to compare. Guti created history in Madrid, providing unforgettable moments for everyone who loves football. It's true that [Canales] has some of Guti's attributes on the field, he thinks in the same way. Perhaps Canales is more of a battler, more aggressive but he is a player who has a lot of things Guti has.
UEFA.com: Will the fact that Madrid haven't got past the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League for the past six seasons weigh heavily on the club?
Mourinho: I'm not thinking about that. The big problem with Madrid is that the club are not among the top seeds, they have lost this status. My tradition as a coach has always been like this as when I arrived at Porto, Chelsea and Inter, they were not top seeds. I have never been fortunate enough to arrive at a club considered top seeds. Because of this, things are more difficult because first you have opponents who are number one seeds in the group, making it difficult to finish top, and if you don't, it means a stronger opponent in the next round.
UEFA.com: What have been your impressions of the team since your arrival?
The thing that has struck me most is that the players want to win. Despite what many people think, these players are not in a comfort zone just because they are playing for Real Madrid. It's completely the opposite – the players want to win and to improve. It's a team I like to work with. It's not a perfect team, nor is it a team that has just been put together, but it is a pleasure working with the players here.
UEFA.com: Last year, Madrid would have been champions had they won both of their games against FC Barcelona. Is this something worth thinking about?
Mourinho: I saw both games and remember them. In the encounter in Madrid I thought Barcelona were superior but the same couldn't be said at the Camp Nou. These are games that are played with a particular philosophy. This season, Barcelona will have the same philosophy, the same dynamic and the same coach as last year but Real Madrid will be a different team, for better or for worse, and we hope to win something which last season wasn't possible.
Obviously the league season consists of 38 games but the matches between the teams who are looking to be champions are very important. Last year, Inter won both matches against Milan. Barcelona won both against Madrid and won the championship. With Chelsea and Manchester United it was the same. The games between contenders are important, above all when two teams are fighting for the title. It's clear that there are two games more important than the other 36.