Manchester United’s Paul Pogba signs autographs at UCLA on Friday after the team’s training session. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)
Jose Mourinho’s college career included one day in business school and five years at the technical university of Lisbon, from which he earned a diploma in sports science.
But if he had to pick a favorite school, it would probably be UCLA. The Manchester United coach has spent more time on the Westwood campus than most students over the last 13 years, bringing four iconic European teams there for summer training camps since 2004.
“Here we have everything,” said Mourinho, who has also come to Westwood with Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. “The facilities are very good. The organization is very good. Since 2004 I am still searching for the first mistake. The first mistake never arrived. It’s amazing.”
Manchester United, which arrived in the Southland earlier this week to train at UCLA’s track stadium, will make Westwood its base during a 2 1/2-week preseason tour, which kicked off Saturday with an exhibition against the Galaxy at the StubHub Center. The Red Devils will also play MLS side Real Salt Lake before taking on European giants Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona in the International Champions Cup.
“I prefer, in this moment, the words ‘we train,’” Mourinho said Friday in a news conference in which he went back and forth between Spanish and English. “A friendly game, for me it’s a training session. Playing against the best — or training against the best — it’s very good. But we’re going to train.”
And Manchester United has a lot of training to do this summer. The team is without longtime captain Wayne Rooney, the team’s all-time leading scorer, who signed this summer with English Premier League rival Everton. Also gone is Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, last year’s top scorer, who was released by the club in June while rehabbing a devastating knee injury that ended his 2016-17 season in April.
Among those joining the team are former Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, who cost United at least $100 million, and Swedish defender Victor Lindelof. And Mourinho said he’s eager to bring in more players.
“We don’t have our door closed. We are not happy with just Lukaku and Lindelof,” he said. “We need more. We wanted four. So I would say 50% of the job’s done.”
As for his enchantment with UCLA, Mourinho said the benefits of training in Southern California go beyond the facilities in Westwood. The team and staff are reportedly split between the five-star Montage hotel in Beverly Hills — where rooms start at more than $800 a night — and the equally plush Beverly Wilshire.
And unlike in Europe, where the players are mobbed each time they step outside, Mourinho said team members are rarely recognized in Los Angeles.
“The players like to come here,” the coach said. “This country gives us soccer people a little bit of freedom that we don’t have in other places. The players, they can walk outside. They can sit in some place and have a drink together. They can go out shopping. They can have a social life.”
And that, plus the absence of family distractions back home, makes this an ideal time to bond, Mourinho added.
“Another factor that is real important for us is for the players to be together 24 hours a day for 2 1/2 weeks,” he said. “We focus just on work and rest. Make the group know each other. And welcome the new people.
“We try to adapt as fast as possible.”