Jose Mourinho has lauded Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic ahead of his Euro 2020 meeting with England and says he is ‘very upset’ never to have managed the Croatian despite their similar career paths.
Since leaving Dinamo Zagreb in 2013, the 27-year-old has played for three clubs all previously managed by Mourinho – Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea – but has never worked under the Portuguese coach.
Their paths have never quite crossed, with Kovacic moving to the clubs a few years after Mourinho had departed each time, with the axed Spurs boss joking that the midfielder might end up at Tottenham next.
‘Kovacic I always feel he’s much better than what people think,’ said Mourinho on talkSPORT.
‘And I am very upset with him because he played in every club I’ve been, but never with me!
‘He played for Real Madrid, but not with me. He played for Chelsea, but not with me. He played for Inter, but not with me.
‘So I love the guy and the guy followed my clubs… maybe he goes to Tottenham! Maybe he goes to Tottenham next season! But he never played for me.’
Kovacic and Croatia take on England in their first match of Euro 2020 on Sunday and Mourinho believes the Three Lions are coming up against a formidable midfield trio.
‘I think England is going to face probably one of the best midfields in the tournament,’ he continued. ‘[Marcelo] Brozovic, [Luka] Modric, Kovacic for me is top of the tops.
‘Brozovic in England we don’t know him so well, fantastic player, very aggressive, great positioning, but at the same time good technique, good arrival in the box even coming from a more defensive position. Modric, we don’t need to say anything.’
Suggesting Gareth Southgate should ditch a back three for the game, Mourinho added: ‘When you play against such a strong midfield, it’s there that you have to control.
‘So why play with three at the back when their power is not there? Since Mandzukic finished, where is the top striker for Croatia? That’s their problem. They have Perisic on the side, they have Rebic who plays around. [Their strength] is there in midfield.
‘So for me [England] should play with two centre-backs, you don’t need more than that, and you concentrate your midfield to play there.’
For more stories like this, check our sport page