Jose Morais has perhaps one of the most interesting coaching CVs around today: a manager shaped by his relationship with Jose Mourinho, a failure in Barnsley but a success in Korea…
You’ll probably know Jose Morais. Even if you’re not a Barnsley fan, where he spent what we’ll call a “challenging” few months as manager in 2018, you will probably have seen him among Jose Mourinho’s staff at some stage over the couple of decades.
Morais was at Benfica when the Portuguese provocateur started his managerial career back in 2000, and has been a regular presence in Mourinho’s entourage ever since: at Porto, Inter (where he replaced Andre Villas-Boas), Real Madrid and Chelsea (spell no.2).
Given how long Morais has known Mourinho, there’s probably no better person to comment on how the new Tottenham manager has changed over his career.
“If there is someone in my life that has influenced everything that I am as a person, and as a professional, it’s Jose Mourinho,” Morais tells the Totally Football Show. “For everything that he gave me, for all the possibilities that he gave me, for everything, for all of the feelings that he could teach me. I have no words to explain because it’s a feeling of love – love and gratitude.”
And despite the prevailing wisdom that Mourinho is no longer the coach he was, Morais believes quite the opposite.
“Naturally you change [as a coach]. You have a different experience, you know. And as a human being, you develop every year, even in a certain way. This has happened in the same way with him. I think is much better as a coach – I think he’s even better now, than then [in his early days]. If he was already a fantastic coach before, I think today he is even a better coach. Because he has much more to give in terms of life experience, in order to influence their players.
“He’s a much better manager today than he was before, because with the experience that he has today, he is not only coaching. I believe that he was always a good boss. He as much more capacity and quality to influence each player than he had before.”
Morais clearly has enormous affection for his old boss, and you suspect they won’t have worked together for the last time. But when not part of Mourinho’s staff, he has put together one of the most peripatetic and interesting coaching CVs around.
Morais has managed in Portugal, Germany, Sweden, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Yorkshire and Ukraine, among others, but his latest post is in South Korea. And a very successful post it has been too: in November Morais led the evocatively-named Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to the K League title.
This was Jeonbuk’s seventh title since 2009, but their first without Choi Kang-hee in charge, the legendary boss who arrived in 2005 and, save for a two-year sabbatical with the national team, stayed until leaving for China in 2018, where he has already got through three clubs and was replaced by Rafa Benitez at Dalian Yifang. So if you’re considering being a bit sniffy about this victory, remember what has happened in England recently when a managerial dynasty has ended.
“It was a big, big challenge,” Morais says, “because normally it’s easier to go to a club that is in a different [less successful] situation. When you go to a club that is normally a champion, you have the obligation to be champion.
“It was a big challenge without knowing the players in the beginning, without having relationships with them and without the possibility to build them immediately, because most of the players don’t speak another language. They only speak Korean. And you can’t communicate with the players, only with the translator.”
Morais found cultural differences almost a bigger barrier than language to overcome. “In their culture it’s difficult to to give feedback in front of others that is not positive. Giving them the necessary feedback for them to improve sometimes is not necessarily positive. And to find a way to go and to communicate was a difficult task, and it created problems in in some moments.” In short: a training ground bollocking was off the table.
“It was always, forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards and forwards. It’s a little bit more of negotiation. In Europe, if you have a tactical task, you tell the players ‘you will do this, this and this,’ and they execute. Here, because this is a group of players that have been together a long time, and with a coach that stayed 13 years, they had a certain style of play that wasn’t easy for them to let go. And as soon as the pressure was higher, the tendency was to go to their ‘holding pattern.’
“They are not players to come to you and communicate, or knock on your door and speak as they feel. They are very reserved. The respect is so, so high that they don’t dare to come to the coach and say what they’re feeling. So as a coach, I have to talk to find out.”
Considering these problems, it’s pretty remarkable that Morais managed to get them pointing in the right direction at all, particularly considering he thinks he only really got the hang of things by the end of season playoffs. “I would say that to manage in Korea, you have to forget what you know and you have to understand what they want.”
Things, of course, did not go quite so swimmingly at Barnsley. Morais arrived in February when Barnsley were second bottom of the Championship and it’s probably not too harsh to say his spell was a calamity from start to finish, manager and club entirely unsuited to each other.
“I think Barnsley was difficult at the time because they had negative trends for a long time when I came. I had two months and fifteen days to make make things happen. The time I had to know the group, was very short, which made the task very difficult. I believe that with more time, if I was there in the beginning of January, things would have happened in a totally different way.”
For now though, Morais has achieved domestic success with Jeonbuk, and wants to take a crack at the Asian Champions League next season, a competition the club won in 2006 and 2016. Beyond that, he does have one thing in mind.
“Obviously one day I would like to be in Europe again. And I think I have a debt of gratitude that I owe to Jose, and maybe one day I would like to come back and work with him again. To have the possibility to work with people you consider almost as family, I think is something you can never ignore and is a blessing.”
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