Kurt Zouma has revealed the moment former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho called him “rubbish” following a disappointing performance.
The 25-year-old French central defender joined the Blues from boyhood club AS Saint-Étienne in 2014, at which point the current Tottenham boss was at the helm.
Zouma featured 49 times under Mourinho in all competitions, winning both the League Cup and Premier League in 2014/15 before the much-travelled Portuguese tactician was shown the door at Stamford Bridge in December that year.
Guus Hiddink, as he’s done so many times, stepped in temporarily but under the interim boss, Zouma would rupture his anterior cruciate ligament.
The injury would put his Chelsea career on hold for several seasons as, after recovering from this setback, he’d enjoy loan spells with Stoke City and then Everton before only returning to the fold after the west London club were handed a transfer ban.
A near ever-present this season under Frank Lampard, Zouma has featured in 20 of Chelsea’s opening 25 league outings. He has missed their last four outings, but did play in their 2-0 win at Spurs in December.
This game saw him come face-to-face with Mourinho, a coach renowned for a tough man-management style that may seem harsh to some. But after experiencing it first-hand, Zouma believes it made him a better player.
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“I cannot remember which match we were playing, we were losing 3-1, away from home,” he told RMC Sport.
“The following day, he [Mourinho] catches up with me, he takes me to his office, and he asks me if I am OK. I said yes, he asked me if I was sure.
“I said yes again, he replied ‘Because you were rubbish this weekend.’ Like that, direct. It shocked me, but it made me want to immediately respond on the pitch.
“I remember that it hurt me, that it affected me. But I really wanted to show him that I could react.”
“He is someone who loves victory. He uses all the tools possible to achieve it,” Zouma added.
“I came here at 19 and he played me. I was able to have my chances, I played my matches.
“I don’t know what other people think, we all have different opinions, but from my side, I don’t really agree [with the notion that Mourinho does not give young players a chance].”
Manchester United at Stamford Bridge is up next for Chelsea in the Premier League on Monday evening. Mourinho’s Spurs side play Aston Villa on Sunday.
Nicer things managers have said about Kurt Zouma:
- “A sporting tragedy. A tough time for the player and his career.” – Guus Hiddink, on Zouma’s cruciate ligament injury in 2016
- “A good central defender, young with big potential.” – Antonio Conte, in 2016
- “Undoubtedly one of the most talented young defenders in the game […] Kurt Zouma is a £30-40m centre-half. We can’t afford that, but in the loan market we can get him here so that’s a good thing.” – Mark Hughes, 2017
- “Chelsea needs a centre-back – Kurt Zouma! You don’t need to buy, you don’t need to spend. Zouma! He’s champion of England, he played for Chelsea, played for Stoke in the Premier League, played for Everton in the Premier League, played for France.” – Mourinho, August 2019