Welcome to ESPN’s Insider Notebook, featuring contributions from our reporters across the continent. In this edition, a tell-all book on Jose Mourinho reveals details about interest from Liverpool — as well as when he pulled a man from a burning car. The coronavirus continues to affect football, but clubs are still discussing transfers …
Jump to: Mourinho pulled man from burning car | Dortmund asked after Greenwood | Bundesliga clubs book psychologists for players | Madrid players talk transfers | United praised during coronavirus crisis | Top clubs to battle FIFA | Coronavirus cash-in from businesses to clubs
Mourinho said yes to Liverpool
Jose Mourinho had an agreement to join Liverpool in 2004 to replace Gerard Houllier, only for Chelsea and Roman Abramovich to come in with a much bigger offer, a new book, “Mourinho: Behind the Special One, from the origin to the glory,” reveals.
Written by French journalist Nicolas Vilas, the book details just how close Mourinho came to joining Liverpool 16 years ago.
In April 2004, with his Porto squad facing a crucial Champions League quarterfinal against Lyon, Jorge Baidek, Mourinho’s adviser at the time, held a meeting at the Portuguese team’s hotel.
“Mourinho should have gone to Liverpool. Rick Parry [then chief executive] was in charge of transfers and we had an agreement. They asked us to wait for 15 days as Houllier was still the Reds’ manager,” Baidek said.
Mourinho was set for Anfield, with French agent Bruno Satin also involved in discussions.
However, agent Jorge Mendes came in with a much better offer from Chelsea, the book claims. Although he had not worked with Mourinho before, the offer he brought to the table was much bigger than the one from Merseyside.
Mourinho met new Chelsea owner Abramovich for the first time on the eve of Porto’s Champions League semifinal against Deportivo La Coruna at the beginning of May, followed by another meeting on the Russian billionaire’s yacht in Monaco the day after Porto won the Champions League.
And the rest is history. — Julien Laurens
… And saved a teammate from a burning car
The book on Mourinho also details a dramatic incident from his playing days in the 1980s when he saved a teammate’s life by pulling him from a burning vehicle.
Mourinho, 23 at the time, was the captain and centre-back at Comercio e Industria, a small club in Setubal, Portugal.
One of the club’s forwards, De, was signed to help Comercio e Industria back into the professional league and then leave for a bigger club. One morning, just as the striker parked his car in the stadium’s car park for training, it caught fire.
Mourinho, the book says, saw the horror unfolding and rushed to the car as it was in flames to get his teammate out and save his life.
“He was heroic,” Fernando Lage, the club’s president at the time, says in the book.
“He saved my life,” De tells the author. — Julien Laurens
United’s Greenwood on Dortmund radar
Borussia Dortmund are making a habit of being keen on the best young talent England has to offer, with Jadon Sancho starring in the Bundesliga and the club coveting Jude Bellingham at Birmingham City.
Sancho has been a revelation since leaving Manchester City for Dortmund in 2017. With 14 goals and 15 assists in 23 appearances this season, clubs across Europe continue to monitor the 20-year-old’s progress, with Manchester United at the front of the queue.
A deal for either never materialised and Greenwood signed a long-term contract at the club as he made his mark on the first team, scoring 12 goals this season.
Dortmund realised that United had absolutely no intention of discussing Greenwood, and he will be off the table in any talks involving Sancho whenever the clubs can ease out of the coronavirus crisis and talk transfers again. — Stephan Uersfeld
Bundesliga clubs book psychologists for players
Some Bundesliga clubs are tasking sports psychologists to prepare their players for the uncertain surroundings when action finally returns sometime in May or June.
Matches will look very different as they are played behind closed doors as per government advice and how players will adapt to the unusual atmosphere has been discussed among clubs in Germany’s top division.
This season, an average of over 40,000 fans per match have passed through the gates of German stadiums in the top flight, with Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion and Bayern Munich‘s Allianz Arena renowned for their packed and vibrant attendance.
The atmospheres in German stadiums has been not only unique but has also brought out the best in players, who crave wild crowds and use it to push themselves beyond their limits.
But that’s over for now. And some Bundesliga clubs have reacted by reaching out to sports psychologists, who will consult with players and prepare them for the change in surroundings when the games restart. — Stephan Uersfeld
Real Madrid dressing room wary of transfer talk
Real Madrid’s players have been watching with interest as a number of high-profile strikers have been linked to the club, despite transfer planning being on hold due to uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic.
Club sources have told ESPN there’s an acceptance, both at boardroom level and inside the dressing room, that the team needs more goals, with the void left by the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 yet to be properly filled.
Signing a goal-scoring forward is “a priority” for next season, sources say, but the players are well aware there are no guarantees any newcomer will be able to deliver.
“All the names being talked about are really good, but Real Madrid is something else,” one senior player said.
While our source was careful not to mention him directly, the example of Luka Jovic is as a cautionary tale. One of Europe’s most sought-after young strikers in 2019 after scoring 27 goals with Eintracht Frankfurt, he has failed to adapt to life at the Bernabeu so far, scoring just two goals. — Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez
Man United praised amid coronavirus crisis
Premier League clubs have watched on with interest at how Manchester United have conducted themselves during the coronavirus crisis.
In January, they held daily meetings about the impact the virus could potentially have, despite the pandemic being in only its very early stages. The feeling at Old Trafford is that the approach has helped them be as prepared as possible, while sources have told ESPN that clubs in the Premier League have noted how well the club has handled the problem internally and externally.
Aside from being well prepared for the impact COVID-19 would have, United were adamant from the outset they would continue to pay their employees and not furlough nonplaying staff. Tottenham, Liverpool and Bournemouth have been forced into embarrassing U-turns on their decisions to furlough nonplaying staff, but sources have said United never intended to do so.
It has also been noted how senior players Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford have conducted themselves and represented the club during the lockdown. The United captain has supplied essential food packages to pensioners in the Yorkshire village where he grew up. Rashford, meanwhile, has raised £100,000 which will help feed 400,000 schoolchildren. — Rob Dawson
Top clubs on collision course with FIFA over contracts
FIFA’s suggestion that player contracts due to end on June 30 should be automatically extended so the season can be completed has caused some bewilderment among chief executives and chairmen at leading Premier League clubs.
One club chief at a top-six club has insisted privately that one cannot unilaterally extend contracts that have specific end dates, and that decisions will still have to be made on a case-by-case basis. Fringe players are concerned clubs will not want to continue to pay them if they aren’t going to play a part in the extended season, while others who planned on utilising free transfers to move do not want to run the risk of injury by playing beyond June 30.
Either way, the view of the clubs is that FIFA’s guidelines are not legally enforceable. — Rob Dawson
Businesses look to cash in on coronavirus
The issue of testing for COVID-19 has become a thorny one in many countries, with eyebrows raised at the ease with which celebrities and sports stars can access tests for the virus at a time when essential workers and the public are struggling to find the same kind of fast-track treatment.
And sources have told ESPN that clubs in the Premier League and EFL are being contacted by medical companies willing to provide tests at a cost of £300 each in order for players and staff to be tested for the virus.
At approximately £9,000 for a squad and club officials to be tested, it would appear to be a sound financial investment, but one senior figure at an English club has told ESPN that his team rejected the offer straightaway.
“First of all, it would be morally wrong to buy up these tests at a time when nurses and medical staff are struggling to be tested,” the source told ESPN. “But even if we did, there is no guarantee that they would be reliable anyway.” — Mark Ogden