You might think Jose Mourinho would have developed a healthy hatred of FC Barcelona by now. After two years of hearing about Barcelona’s greatness, and two years of intense matches and title chases and cup games, you would understand if Mourinho was just about sick of Barcelona.
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The truth is Mourinho is thankful for their existence.
He credits their rivalry with helping transform a young Real Madrid team into a title winner, and for helping Real Madrid reach heights never before attained by the most successful club team in the world. Fresh off a record-setting season in La Liga, a league win capped by a title-clinching victory in Barcelona, Mourinho gave credit to his fiercest rival for providing the motivation for Madrid’s title run.
“All the rivals should thank the other one for things you achieve,” Mourinho said in an exclusive interview with FOX Soccer in New York City. “I always remember that when I was in England, Sir Alex Ferguson told me that the way Chelsea won the Premier League is pushing all the other teams, including Manchester United, to be better. They reached a level where now everybody feels that, to be champion, we need to be much stronger than we are.
“When we go to the Spanish rivalry, we should do the same, we should thank the opponent for the level we reached,” Mourninho added. “Because the rivalry is high, the quality is tremendous. The level must be very, very, very, very good, and if we beat the record last year it was because we felt all the time that we couldn’t lose one single point.
“The rivalry, if we can analyze it in the proper way, in the good way, is very, very good because it pushes people to be better and pushes teams to be better.”
Real Madrid’s first chance for silverware this year will come against Barcelona, in the upcoming Spanish Super Cup. After losing out in the Champions League semifinals in penalty kicks to Bayern Munich, Madrid are focused on repeating as La Liga champions, while keeping a keen eye on attaining the club’s tenth Champions League title – a title the club hasn’t won in a decade.
Mourinho avoided the topic in the past – going so far to avoid mentioning Barcelona by name. But he is no longer afraid to discuss Real Madrid’s rival. In large part, it’s due to Madrid’s La Liga conquest last season, breaking the Blaugranas’ dominating run in Spain.
“There are always difficult opponents, but in this rivalry we’ve had a great evolution because last year we beat (Barcelona) in their own stadium in the crucial match for the league,” Mourinho said. “The difference was four points in that match. If we lose that match we go to one point, and we went to their stadium and beat them there, which was a very important step.
“For me, the main point is the psychological one, and when you have that psychological advantage everything is easier,” Mourinho continued. “We went from a difficult situation to a much stronger situation with them.
“The rivalry will always be difficult, but we feel much more comfortable.”
Real Madrid is coming off a dream season that saw the club set league records for points and goals. That success led to a quiet summer transfer period, which should help provide some continuity to a team that had endured turmoil in the years before Mourinho’s arrival.
Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas said the Barcelona rivalry helped a young Real Madrid side grow up quickly, and it continues to drive the team’s quest for victories and quest to be considered the best team in the world.
“We were a new team, a young team [when Mourinho took over in 2010,] but we kept learning and kept maturing and reached a major milestone when we won the Copa Del Rey against Barcelona [in 2011],” Casillas told FOX Soccer. “A year later we won the league, and you can see how much we have grown and matured as a team.
“It has happened very quickly and part of the reason for that has been our rivalry, our games against Barcelona.
Casillas also downplayed the notion that the two Spanish giants have developed a hatred for each other after the intense confrontations over the past two seasons.
“There are rivalries everywhere, in all sorts of situations, from soft drinks to companies,” Casillas said. “It’s a competitive rivalry, a strong rivalry, but there isn’t really a hate there because you have friends on the other side that you play with on your national teams.
“Every year the rivalry gets more emotional,” Casillas added. “I think Madrid made that jump to catch with a team like Barcelona, that was playing a brand of soccer that was very different. Now we have learned how to compete with them, and have started to win titles, and it’s a healthy competition, and hopefully another successful season for us.”
“I think the team is ready this season to do even better,” Mourinho said. “I’m not saying better in terms of numbers because the league of records is something almost impossible to beat. But to win competitions, to play great football, to impress the world with the way we do it, I think we can do it again.”