If his brand of football was only as eloquent as his language then perhaps Jose Mourinho might lay claim to the job he so obviously covets.
In words as plain as the timing allowed, ahead of his Internazionale side's encounter with Manchester United tonight, Mourinho made it quite clear yesterday that he covets the manager's job at Old Trafford – a place he said now "looks like home" – when Sir Alex Ferguson packs in.
Mourinho's representatives were quick to quash weekend suggestions that Mourinho, back in a British manager's dug-out tonight for the first time since leaving Stamford Bridge two years, is angling for the job. But the 46-year-old left little to the imagination as he spoke with affection for the stadium where his side take a 0-0 draw from the home leg of the first knock-out stage.
"In 20 years maybe," said Mourinho, wistfully, when asked if he would like to succeed Ferguson. "He's tough, he's strong, he's happy, he loves it and he wins," Mourinho said of Ferguson. "So let him be here for 10 more years."
Just one more season after this looks a more likely outcome, though Ferguson hinted in a French interview that he may go on longer. "I have been on the train for so long that when I get off I fear my system will collapse," he said. Mourinho, whose side's current Serie A ascendancy has not been accompanied by wholesale support in Italy, made it plain that the British footballing environment is more preferable to him than Italy's. "In Italy, there is a bit of a drama in difficult moments. Football [in Britain] is never drama. It is it is always passion and pleasure."
Old Trafford represents a mighty challenge tonight for the Portuguese, whose enthusiasm for the place came in spite of the flu bug he was trying to shake off yesterday. United have gone 18 matches undefeated at the stadium in Europe, a run which reaches back four years.
But Mourinho has reasons to relish European nights at the place which, he said yesterday, had changed his life utterly after he brought the Porto side there which eliminated Ferguson's five years ago on Monday. The win was courtesy of a 90th-minute close-range shot by Costinho, who capitalised on a blunder by the United goalkeeper Tim Howard. Mourinho famously danced down the Old Trafford touchline and his side of unknowns went on to capture the trophy.
"That was the goal which opened doors in England for me," Mourinho reflected. "Because of that goal we could win the competition. Without it we wouldn't even have reached the quarter final. Porto was the kind of team [I] had under my skin because it was my team.
"I made it from day one. It was a team only with kids and year after years we were champions of Portugal. For this group that nobody respected much at that time to come here and beat Manchester United and win the competition was something fantastic."
The win contributed to an extraordinary statistic where Ferguson and his opposing manager are concerned: the Scot has defeated Mourinho only once in 13 attempts, with the draw in San Siro last month creating the kind of knife-edge second leg dynamic which he always hates.
Ferguson admitted yesterday that the edge Mourinho has always had over him demonstrates his own vulnerabilities. "It proves I'm not infallible," Ferguson reflected. "I'm vulnerable to everyone who gets involved in football. You can lose football matches."
Ferguson's modesty had its limits, though. He reminded those listening that the Porto win, on Mourinho's first night inside Old Trafford was contentious. "On the night we were the better team and beaten by a poor decision," he said, reflecting for the umpteenth time on the marginal decision to disallow Paul Scholes' goal that evening.
Mourinho chose not to make capital of his statistical record. "I don't explain," he said, when asked to, though there was a dig at his old adversary in his assertion that it is Inter, not United, who carry most advantage into the second leg. Could he extend that record? "Why not?" he said. "0-0 is a good result for the team that plays the second leg away. It's a game for people who can hold the pressure."
Mourinho chose not to remember his less temperate language, where Ferguson was concerned, when he sat in the same room to discuss the United/Porto game of 2004. "I don't remember to be honest," he said. He launched his attack on Ferguson after the Scot had accused Porto's players of diving in the first leg which they won 2-1 and pointedly refused to accept Mourinho's handshake. Manchester is evidently a different place for him these days. "I even know the groundsman," Mourinho said. "He asked me to train one side because that side has no sun. I know the man, he's a nice guy – so ok."
Ferguson's respect for Mourinho has grown since then. But there he is clearly indifferent to the bottle of wine he left him at San Siro last month when he left through the back of the dug-out without so much as a hand-shake. "I can't remember if I've used that wine yet. No, it's still in my house," he said. Ferguson's most famous pronouncement about Italians was the one about checking under sauce to make sure "when they tell you it's pasta on the plate." And if a Portuguese served that plate what the response be? "Probably very much the same," he said, laughing.
United's own record over the years, Ferguson said, transcended any individual chink in the armour which the Portuguese might have managed. "You look at the football club and I think we've a right to be proud of it and what we've achieved over the time I've been here," he said. "That's more important to me. It doesn't bother me one bit about Mourinho's record against me. It can happen."
Ferguson will find plenty of relaxation today – his horse, What A Friend, runs in the 2.40 at Cheltenham. But, with both Rio Ferdinand and John O'Shea fit, a win offers potential for a most satisfying experience.Reuse content