With Jose Mourinho returning to the FA Cup stage tomorrow when Chelsea visit Derby, he has been recalling when the competition first fired his imagination, as well as further discussing another aspect of English football that appeals to him.
An FA Cup winner as a manager back in 2007, it was long before he came to work in London that Wembley showpiece finals in May caught his eye.
‘As a kid, in the time of black and white television, day after day, the English Cup final was one of the few matches I was waiting with my father and with some friends to see,’ Mourinho recalls.
‘I have some memories of this fantastic feeling and of some smaller teams playing the final against some big clubs and always giving a real fight.
‘Later on, working with Bobby Robson, I was always hearing him speaking about the good things in English football and the tradition of the FA Cup, so I got that feeling and certainly when I came here I played matches at Stamford Bridge against teams from the lower leagues and these teams were playing from the first minute without any fear, bringing thousands of fans to support them.
‘It is unique because in Italy and Portugal I played cup matches with 3000 people in the stadium. In Spain because a cup tie is two matches, in the first match against a smaller team if we win three or four-nil then in the second match there is nobody in the stadium too. You come to England and every game is a big one, and it is a great competition.’
One FA Cup final when he was watching from afar sticks in Mourinho’s mind especially. No doubt like many Chelsea fans he found himself cheering on Coventry City when they beat Spurs in 1987 because, he explains, he always supported the underdog.
Now Mourinho takes Chelsea to play a Derby side who will be considered the underdog on Sunday afternoon.
‘The next game after Derby is Hull next weekend, we don’t have a game two days after,’ he says.
‘So we can have a day off on Monday and come back on Tuesday and prepare to play Saturday against Hull, so Derby is the last game of this crazy period and after that things come back to normality for a couple of weeks and I think the players are also keen to go with a strong side and tell our opponent we are going there with the maximum respect. Do we lose, do we win, who knows, but at least the message is we respect Derby and we go there with the best possible team.’
Mourinho this weekend has also given his thoughts on FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s recently stated wish to see the problem of simulation reduced in the game.
‘There are many ways to fight it,’ says the Chelsea manager.
‘You can fight it with the yellow card, you can fight it with criticism from the media and from the fans, you can fight it with penalty time like Mr Blatter is saying. There are many ways to fight it and I think we all should show that. You have to try to persuade people that it’s an important issue in the game.
‘If Mr Blatter is worried I think he should do a tour in many countries, go around places where it has become part of the culture and the last country for him must be England because it’s the country where football is more pure and more clean in relation to these situations.
‘There are many divers in the world of football, some in big clubs in the world, and there are some divers in England but not many. In Chelsea, there are no divers at all.
‘Oscar against Southampton made a mistake which he tells me and I believe because he was completely convinced the goalkeeper was coming to smash him. He was punished with a yellow card and he accepted it in a very calm way and I said afterwards well done Mr Atkinson, the referee, end of story.
‘We don’t have divers and we have one player who it looks like opponents can do anything to him and nothing happens, and that is Eden Hazard – in the box, out the box, week after week.
‘If Mr Blatter wants to analyse the situation then he should go to other countries and fight the problem there. Don’t be afraid to go to the big clubs and go to some big players and after that come to England because here the job is easy, because it is the best here even if we have to fight some little problems that occur.’