The World Cup group stage has been hailed by some as the most exciting ever, but while the action has been thrilling, Jose Mourinho says fans should not expect to see revolutionary tactics from the teams in Russia.
Mourinho has been working as an exclusive pundit for RT during the World Cup in Russia, and gave insights into how he has viewed the quality of the action on the pitch and the teams’ approach to the tournament.
The Manchester United boss said that despite gathering the greatest players in pursuit of football’s biggest prize, the World Cup was not football’s standout competition in terms of the tactics and quality of play on offer.
“I think the best competition in the world is not the World Cup, speaking about the quality of the game, the development of the teams, the tactical details,” he told RT.
“And that’s normal, because the best teams in the world are the clubs, not the national teams, and the coaches at the clubs can work every day, and play two or three times a week, and play in the best competitions, the national leagues, the Champions League. The World Cup is an amazing social event that brings the passion for football into limits, because we are speaking about countries, but innovations in the World Cup, I don’t see it.”
The Portuguese also said he did not expect any one player to emerge from being a relative unknown to global stardom on the back of performances in Russia.
“I don’t think there will be any big surprises. I don’t think any player that the world doesn’t know who is going to make something unbelievable [at the World Cup].”
He added, however, that the World Cup does produce moments that go down in football folklore – often from unlikely sources.
“But of course there are always crucial moments in the World Cup that can bring a player to the eyes of the world, the player that scores a winning goal in a specific moment, a player that scores an amazing goal that stays for history,” he said.
Mourinho, 55, has particularly fond memories of the Mexico World Cup in 1986, and especially a stunning goal scored by Mexico’s Manuel Negrete in the last 16 match against Bulgaria in front of 114,000 fans at a raucous Azteca stadium.
“I always remember one player in the second World Cup in Mexico, Negrete, he scored an amazing goal, a bicycle kick in the Azteca, which stays for the history of football.
“Was Negrete one of the best players in the world? No he wasn’t, but he stays in history because the World Cup is exactly the theater for these kind of dreams.”
While there may not have been a tactical revolution in Russia, the tournament has seen its first-ever use of video assistant referee (VAR) technology.
The technology allows the referee to review decisions with the help of video replays in four key situations: suspected violations in the build-up to goals; penalty decisions; direct red cards; and mistaken identity in awarding red and yellow cards.
Despite the technology dividing opinion – with detractors saying it slows the speed of the game and leaves certain decisions still open to debate – Mourinho says he backs VAR in principle.
“I like the concept of VAR, the concept that if something wrong happens, if a big mistake happens, the VAR is there to bring the truth to the game. I like that concept,” he said.
Mourinho has been operating in Moscow from a base overlooking the iconic Red Square. He’s a regular visitor to the Russian capital due to his football duties – including playing CSKA Moscow in Manchester United’s Champions League campaign last season.
He had hoped to move beyond the more typical surroundings of the stadium, hotel and airport to take in more of what the city has to offer during the World Cup – although the sheer volume of fans has forced him to reassess his plans.
“You know, I come to Moscow almost every year, but normally when you travel with football, you know the stadium, airport and hotel. This time I thought I could a little bit more, but honestly the city is amazing, but it is full of people that love football, people who… I don’t say disturb me, because that would be rude… but people who want a bit of attention, want a photo, want an autograph.
“It’s not 1 percent, it’s five, 10, 20, so it’s difficult for me to enjoy, but from the roof I can see so much, and I can see so much beauty.”
He also praised the way the hundreds of thousands of foreign fans flooding into Russia to support their teams had created such a wonderful spectacle – and how practical issues such as security had been handled.
“Until now, I think the most important thing is lots of fair play, lots of happiness, no problems in the stadium, no problems on the streets."
“You can see the security are doing a professional job, controlled, without extra things that complicate it.
“[Earlier] I was at Mexico-Germany, I saw fans together, side by side, not even necessary to separate them, I hope that continues until the final.”
Mourinho will be in Moscow to witness who exactly takes part in that final at Luzhniki on July 15, and will continue to provide RT with exclusive analysis of all the World Cup action in Russia.