TGG Podcast #43 - Rui Faria: Creating a new era for football
Written by Simon Austin — October 11, 2022
RUI FARIA is the joint most successful number two that football has seen, along with Jock Stein's assistant, Sean Fallon.
For 17 years, the Portuguese worked alongside Jose Mourinho, winning 23 major trophies before they parted ways in 2018. Faria was our guest on Episode #43 of the TGG Podcast and gave in-depth insights into one of the most important and influential partnerships in football history.
You can listen via the Player below and read an edited transcript of the conversation after that.
1. UNIVERSITY OF PORTO/ TACTICAL PERIODISATION
Rui Faria: I went to University and did sport science. My course was also to be a teacher, so it was a sport science degree with a specialisation in high-performance football. It was aiming at coaching and training.
The first contact I had with Tactical Periodisation and Vitor Frade was in the third year of the course, when we started the specialisation in football. This is where we have methodology and I had Vitor Frade as a teacher.
Back then Tactical Periodisation was not the methodology it is today. There were concepts about specificity, model of play, change of priority in the team’s preparation. The only periodisation you could bring to football normally was the physical dimension of the game.
The discussion was about this new way of approaching the preparation of the team, which was tactical. You need to understand this as a culture, so the coach has the way he wants to play football, his game ID, as the priority. Then everything comes under this important perspective.
In the fifth year, because we couldn’t see people working in the way we were speaking in the class - and because the ideas were not yet an organised methodology - I tried to justify scientifically the concept of Tactical Periodisation.
As students, we wanted more. The only possibility I had was to go to the pitch and try to understand what the coaches were doing and to justify it scientifically. I met with the coaches at the time, from the first league in Portugal, and also science people who wrote about other concepts, justifying the systemic approach to knowledge.
2. BARCELONA/ FIRST MEETING WITH JOSE MOURINHO
After interviewing all of the coaches I read an interview in a Portuguese sports newspaper with Jose Mourinho. At the time he was in Barcelona as Louis Van Gaal’s assistant. In the interview he spoke about how important it was for the coach to have a football idea in the way he wants to play and how important it is he chooses well the exercises he wants to use according to the way he wants to play.
It was a very interesting interview and I thought, ‘I need to interview this guy.’
I went to speak with him and he gave me a very good interview. He was very nice with me. I did my work, tried to justify it scientifically and afterwards I remembered to send this work to thank the people I had interviewed.
He (Mourinho) was the only guy who answered me, saying, ‘Fantastic work. Do your coaching courses and maybe one day we work together.’
At the time I was 22 or 23, so it was a young student’s dream and you think, ‘He’s just being nice with me.’
I never knew that interview and that work would take me where it did in the end.
3. LEIRIA/ WORKING TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME
The interview (with Mourinho) was in 1999 and we started working together in January 2001. It was the time for him to stop being the assistant in Barcelona. He came to work in Benfica, stayed there for three months, to December 2000, and it was his option to leave.
In January 2001, he said, ‘Look, I will coach and we have three possibilities. Are you interested to work with me?’
I said, ‘Yesterday.’ Not even today or tomorrow. Jose had a huge experience already. I was a young student finishing University. I didn’t have loads of experience but I had loads of ideas and knowledge.
I had a lot of theory in my head, things to experiment, so we mixed the information I had plus his experience and developed together something great. It was me trying to justify something that was out of the box and him also speaking about football in a way that was completely out of the box.
Today it is easy to get loads of information - you can go on YouTube to see videos - but at the time there was not so much. The work we developed together was really different from the normal.
Teams in pre-season used to do mostly physical work, so you would come on the first day and go for a run, on the pitch or in the woods. Since the first day (at União de Leiria) we arrived with boots to play football. That was immediately a huge change.
They (the players) enjoyed it, because you are speaking about a one-and-a-half hour session where normally they do 45 or 50 minutes of fitness work and play (football) for half an hour of the session.
With us they were playing for one-and-a-half hours. You would have time to prepare them for the session and after that everything was about playing football. When they faced other opponents and felt good, they said, ‘Ok, it works.’
Some people still believe that when you play football you don’t have fitness work, but it is there. If you know how to control the session you can develop everything through playing.
What brings the exercise to the session is a football objective, not a fitness objective. This is what people confuse a lot - they put the fitness side in front. Each exercise needs to have a tactical objective, a principal or sub principal of the game.
Then, of course, the exercise you put on the pitch will have a physiological impact.
4. STICKING TO YOUR BELIEFS
We stuck with it, even through ups and downs.
At Leiria, I remember there was a moment after three matches when we had a draw. We were winning the game 2-0 and drew 2-2 and the guy (a journalist) wrote a piece saying that the team was really bad physically, the fitness was not enough and that Jose had a very young assistant.
We (the coaches) had a small meeting where we questioned what we were doing: did we think the players believed in our work, our way of doing things?
I really believed that if we wanted to improve it needed to be by developing the work the way we were doing it. He (Mourinho) was also keen to do that, but it was also important to understand what the players were feeling and why.
From this meeting we just came out stronger. We said, ‘No, we keep the way we are doing and go forward.’ We developed a great job and no doubts it was completely different to the normal at the time.
It was me trying to justify something that was out of the box and him (Mourinho) also speaking about football in a way that was completely out of the box.
5. PORTO/ WORLDWIDE ATTENTION
One-and-a-half months later we were having meetings with Benfica and Porto and finished going to Porto in January 2002.
Porto was really great. I remember when we arrived the team was in trouble, was fourth or fifth in the league, and we needed to try to qualify for the UEFA Cup. I remember that at the end of the season we changed around 14 players, to try to rebuild the team.
This was very good work from Jose and the club and all of us in the end. We built a team that finished winning everything (the League, Cup and UEFA Cup in 2002/3) and the season after again kept winning everything (the League and Champions League in 2003/4).
Then came Chelsea and this is history.
6. CHELSEA/ A NEW ERA FOR ENGLISH FOOTBALL
(At his first Chelsea press conference, in the summer of 2004, Mourinho famously announced ‘I am the Special One.’)
It is the Jose that I know - really confident. He knew he had achieved something really important in the past and wanted to be taken seriously. It was an expression he used for people to take him seriously, because he was coming to do a serious job.
(A new way of working for Chelsea's players)
Yes, was a big change for them. When we arrived in 2004 they were coming from an Italian approach (with Claudio Ranieri) and an Italian fitness coach, which is different from our approach.
When we started, we immediately began training with the ball. I remember some players saying to me, ‘Yeah, but this is the Premier League, the intensity is too high.’
I said, ‘Look, you will adapt to the level the Premier League demands. When the competition starts you will be fine, no worries.’
Now everyone works 80, 90% with the ball, so it is easy to accept. Kids get used to working a lot with the ball and demand that more than anything. We are speaking two decades after. I think we marked a lot an era in football.
As an assistant, I had responsibilities to produce exercises for the manager. If he thought they were interesting, he would take them. I was able to have space to propose things, but the last word was always his (Mourinho's).
I believe in coaches who are able to produce their own exercises to the way they want to play. It is like a fingerprint. He (Mourinho) had his way of seeing the exercises he wanted for his way of playing and with time you start also giving your views and proposing new things.
At the time we fit very well all the information and what was done was history.
I did a little bit of everything. You need to be ready for anything; you cannot be ready to hide any missing skills. People cannot stay at that level for so many years if you are not capable to be a coach and be complete in all aspects of coaching.
7. INTER MILAN/ IMPORTANCE OF MENTALITY
(Mourinho and Faria joined Inter Milan in June 2008)
When we arrive to clubs, you need to understand the reality, the culture, the history. We are speaking about a club (Inter Milan) that had an owner (Massimo Moratti) that was chasing the Champions League for so many years.
That was in the players’ blood. They needed a coach with the same kind of ambitions and Jose was that coach.
I remember at the start of 2009/10 we needed a number 10 and focused on that and fought until the moment we got him, because it was a piece of a puzzle that was missing. It was clear in Jose’s head how he wanted to play and that player was crucial for him. That player was (Wesley) Sneijder and he was in Real Madrid.
(In April 2010 Inter had to play more than an hour of their Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona with 10 men but still prevailed to reach the final).
I remember being with Jose and watching matches and understanding the difficulty (of that match), because they (Barcelona) were really a strong team. But I believed (Inter) would do everything they had to go through and arrive to the final. That was what happened.
What was lived in that match goes over a normal match, there was so much involved. There were so many experienced players with hunger to win a title like that. It involved everybody - the supporters, the club, the owner, the players, the coaches - and was really something special.
Intensity is usually a word associated with fitness, but it needs to be understood as a mental intensity, as intensity of concentration. When you are preparing sessions of one-and-a-half hours, you want to demand concentration. Why? Because you are passing information and ideas.
Concentration is something you train. If you are not used to reading, you take a book and read two or three pages, and when you go to the fourth or fifth page you don’t remember any more. Why? Because your level of concentration is not high.
But if you do it every day, you arrive to a moment where you read 20 pages and still are ok to remember everything. This works the same way if you are training and teaching and passing information to players. If you demand intensity of concentration that will be related to everything.
Players will be more focused every second of the session, so they are more aware of everything happening around, and they will be more ready to answer.
You do an exercise of 10 minutes and then spend 10 minutes taking the balls to another place and then 10 minutes to explain the session, all the concentration and mental intensity is gone. Everything you do, you need to be very accurate in your organisation.
In an important session you need to demand maximum concentration and that will bring maximum performance from the players. One of the secrets to success is the way you work mentally with players: the confidence you give, the motivation. Playing well, in my opinion, is a state of mind.
So the more you create conditions for players to have confidence in themselves, the better the players will believe in your message and feel comfortable with that.
8. REAL MADRID/ UNDERSTANDING INDIVIDUALS
Sometimes the session is to relax though. I will give you an example...
In Real Madrid (where they worked from 2010 to 2013), I loved to be with the players in the recovery session. Why? Because I want to listen to the conversations. Listening to their ideas, their feelings, their emotions, how they felt about the game.
For me, it was important to be there to understand what was happening. Even if the comment was not good, I never understood it as a negative.
Teams are more important than individuals - so long as you understand really well the individual. They are all different - as personalities, in their objectives, in their personal lives. You need to understand each one in a different way.
You say this is too much work for a coach; yes, of course it is. For that you also have different assistants with different personalities who can work with two or three players each.
You can use many tools as a coach to get to know each one well. Some guys will accept the message in front of the group, others you need to go more private. You need to know who you are dealing with.
Leadership is about honesty and being able to say to everyone to follow the same kind of rules. You need the same kind of rules, you cannot make distinctions. This works throughout society. You need justice in your message to everyone.
Otherwise it is easy for them to look at you and say, 'This person has two different faces.'
9. STYLE OF PLAY AND THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAGMATISM
When we arrived in Chelsea in 2004, most of the teams were winning the ball in the defensive area of the pitch and kicking it up quickly to the strikers. That was high emotion in English football, that was the culture.
The ball was always close to the goal and it was about fighting for the first and second ball and running behind - and people were loving that. There were not 20, 30 passes on the ball, there were two.
I remember in 2004/5 we played a match and our midfielders were saying, ‘It’s impossible to touch the ball!’
This was Blackburn, this was Bolton - it was everywhere! We would say, ‘Don’t play the game they want you to do.’
Then with the years, with the influence of different coaches and countries, it changed. People talk about, ‘This is the style we want to follow and the only style.’ Come on. In football we need to be pragmatic. If you can win and have beautiful football, this is perfect.
When you prepare teams you need to get them to understand, ‘Yes, I like to have the ball, but if we can arrive at the goal with just two passes, then we will do that.' Because the objective is to score.
I do not like to speak about philosophies.
Normally, when you are in those clubs (with playing philosophies) you are able to get the players to fit your ideas. But not everyone has the conditions of Klopp and Guardiola, who are great coaches, of course.
When people talk about this is the style we want to follow and the only style, come on. In football we need to be pragmatic. If you can win and have beautiful football, this is perfect.
When you prepare teams you need to get them to understand yes, I like to have the ball, but if to arrive in the goal I give just two passes then I will do that, because the objective is to score.
I will not like to speak about philosophies. Normally, when you are in those clubs you are able to get the players to fit your ideas. But not everyone has the conditions of Klopp and Guardiola, who are great coaches, of course.
You need to adapt. Jose was, and is, very good on that. You create concepts in your team that will allow you to create an identity.
Sometimes I see teams play and the risk is so high. They do really high pressing, but their centre backs are slow. If I am the opponent, I will put a man in the last line and when we win the ball put him to run into the space, because there are 50 metres behind. People need to understand the reality of what they have.
We were accused of being defensive in Spain and have the most points and goals in a season! Especially Jose was accused of being defensive for many many years.
Recently we had teams that if they needed to put 11 players inside the box they will do that and they win the Premier League - and not many years ago. I don’t remember us doing that. For me, there is not one way (to play) that is better than another. This is about results. Winning is beautiful, it is always the main objective.
If you play beautiful but don’t get results, you are out.
10. YOUNG PLAYERS
Players need to be ready to play with different formations, different styles, because the coaches with the first team are always changing and come with different systems and approaches.
Different dynamics demand different answers from players. There are guys who want to control the game by having the ball, there are others who prefer to control the game not having the ball.
You really know the players when you start working with them. Sometimes, for reasons you don’t understand, things don’t happen. We had examples in the past where the players were not able to perform.
(Mohamed) Salah, when he arrived to us in Chelsea in January 2014, things didn’t happen to him the way we expected. We knew he had beautiful conditions for that level - the top level - and he has proved that by the results he had.
At the time with us the things didn’t happen to him though. I don’t know if it was because he was a younger player and the move was a really important jump to him. Then he went to Fiorentina, Roma and to Liverpool, so he had an evolution in his career, he got more maturity, but the skills were there to be a good player and we saw them.
Some players are very good in a context. We had a player who was the best player in Germany, but when he arrived to play with us in Madrid, things didn’t work well for him. It was related with football, maybe with his private life, there are so many things influencing the performance that you never know how good people will be.
There are some (young players) that fit immediately because they are so exceptional. They don’t need time to arrive at the best level. With Cristiano (Ronaldo), was amazing. I saw him playing for the first time at 16 at Leiria. I remember Jose saying to me, 'Come and see this guy playing.'
It was amazing to see.
The first time we saw Messi playing was against Porto in 2004 in the first match in the Dragão Stadium in Porto. I think it was a friendly match and the first time he played for the first team at, I think, 16-years-old.
Others need an introduction to the level. The moment you choose to put them in is very important. It is very good when you stat introducing these players in a positive context, because it will help their development. Otherwise, you can lose a lot of time because you will have to rebuild them.
Sometimes it is easier in smaller teams than bigger teams. Training with the first team is really important; making them feel comfortable with older players is a way to give stability to young players. You reward the work with the Academy and go and speak with them (the coaches there) and say, ‘Who deserves to come up this week?’
It is not a process that you just click your fingers.
11. MANCHESTER UNITED/ GIVING CONTEXT TO NUMBERS
(Faria scrapped the use of GPS at first-team level shortly after he and Mourinho arrived at Manchester United in the summer of 2016)
I have nothing against GPS, but you cannot reduce performance to GPS. There is a huge tendency to have the GPS controlling the sessions.
I have a background in sport science. so I am entitled to speak about this. And because I have a background in sport science, I know there are many sciences around football that are really important.
For me, neuroscience is maybe the most important of all. Why? Because it is about our brain. The information we get from the process, everything comes through our brain.
I am ok to say that I didn’t use GPS. Not because I am old fashioned, like someone said, but because at that moment we felt it was good for us not to use it. We knew things that had happened in the club in the past, so the decision came from that.
We are not so worried if a guy today did a percentage of high intensities or not. The way we prepared the session, we know that will come up, we don’t need to measure.
Today the GPS’s are good tools, especially if you don’t understand anything about the physiology of the game. If that information coming up from the GPS can be used in a way in which I am not interested - and that information is not in my hands, it belongs to a different department - I prefer not to use it because the benefits will be higher if I don’t.
The numbers are there, they belong to the Premier League - from 2016 to 2018 for the availability of players, and the ratio in relation with injuries, we had the best numbers. Without GPS.
Data is important, no doubts on this, but also you need to give a context to data, you need to understand. A number doesn’t measure emotions and is a reference for people who don’t know how to control their session.
If you take the data and don’t put the full picture to understand, you are doing a wrong job. There is a huge tendency to forget to see the full picture. Many times, teams who have the most running are the ones that are chasing the ball. Numbers don’t explain everything. What are we here speaking about, running, athletics, or football?
I give you a different area where you measure also - measuring fatigue.
We had a certain period there was a player in our team trying to beat the record of matches he did consecutively in a season or two or three seasons. Someone came to me from the sport science side, saying, ‘Look, the fatigue tests are saying the player is under fatigue, it is a big risk for him to play.’
I said, ‘Ok. Let the player know and let the coach know about it.’ Joking about it, because one, it was impossible to take the player out from the context where he was. Ok, I believe he was showing signs of fatigue, but he played, he never got injured.
You can have that information, but you can NEVER say a player cannot play because I found out he is in fatigue. Come on, this is ridiculous. Most of players in the Premier League arrive in the beginning of the season in fatigue. If you go now, there are players in fatigue. What are you going to do, stop them?
12. THE FUTURE: WORKING WITH MOURINHO AGAIN?
"I still believe he is the best. I still believe in him the same way I believed 20 years ago."— Training Ground Guru (@ground_guru) October 9, 2022
Rui Faria on his old boss Jose Mourinho
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I never thought about it, I don’t have an answer for you. We are professionals, confidantes and friends. I never put that in question. I don’t think he has also thought about it.
I cannot say never, the same way I can’t say it will happen.
We worked well, very well. For me, they were fantastic and unforgettable moments. I still believe he is the best. There are a number of coaches that are at the same level, but I don’t think they are better than him.
I still believe in him the same way I believed 20 years ago. For me, he is still the best. I know how he thinks, I know how he prepares himself. He is also my friend and I wish him always the best
During the time we were together we did well and for me was really impressive and an unforgettable experience, because in the end is a very important part of my life.