The unusual feature of Jose Mourinho's days as Chelsea manager was that he never picked a fight with Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsène Wenger, Rafael Benitez, Uefa, the Metropolitan Police (dog-related incident), Berkshire's South Central emergency services (ambulance-related incident), Claudio Ranieri, William Gallas, Cristiano Ronaldo. Mourinho had feuds with all of them. But never Ferguson.
With Ferguson, Mourinho's style was overtly deferential. He often called him "the boss" and in an era when we in the newspapers were obsessed with what we called Ferguson and Wenger's "mind games", Mourinho just never engaged.
As they fought over the dominance of English football for three years, we awaited Mourinho's two-footed lunge on Ferguson – but it never came. There was a Cuban missile crisis moment in 2007 when Mourinho described Ronaldo as having "no education", a remark which Ferguson described as "below the belt" but then they both backed off. Relations have remained warm ever since.
Why, when he has taken on virtually every other opposing manager or authority figure in his career, did Mourinho never attack? The best explanation is that he wants the Manchester United job one day and he knows Ferguson will have a major say in who is appointed, as the club's chief executive David Gill confirmed in an interview this time last year.
Mourinho has cultivated his relationship assiduously with Ferguson ever since 2004, as Porto manager, he slid on his knees on the Old Trafford touchline when his team eliminated United from the Champions League. So what if, this month, Ferguson wins United's 19th league title and his third Champions League and decides to call it a day?
Mourinho's record makes him the stand-out candidate. But his behaviour in the aftermath of the Champions League first-leg defeat to Barcelona last week must have given Gill and Ferguson cause to consider his suitability to be United manager when the day finally comes.
Mourinho's post-match rant at Barcelona on Wednesday was a new low. Ferguson is no stranger to calling it on with referees, as he did yesterday, and other managers but Mourinho took the breath away. It was not only the slurs on Pep Guardiola or his wild conspiracy theories but the sense that this was a man out of control and capable of saying anything. For one of the world's biggest clubs, a conservative institution who will one day have to appoint their first manager in more than two decades, it was reason to recoil.
The succession to Ferguson is an intriguing question because the stock of leading managers rises and falls so quickly. One year ago Martin O'Neill would have been a leading candidate, but less so now. The manager who gets the job will need an impressive CV, but he will also have to time his run right. When Ferguson decides to step down, United will want the new manager to feel like the man of the moment.
Ideally, United, who like nothing better to keep it all in-house, would be suited to a Bill Shankly-Bob Paisley succession but in almost 25 years the one thing Ferguson has not done at United is groom a successor. In the absence of one, Mourinho, always ready to lavish praise on his senior counterpart, has established himself in the collective imagination as that man.
In terms of his record there is no manager more qualified to succeed Ferguson than Mourinho because, other than Guardiola, Mourinho delivers trophies – and trophies are what Manchester United in the modern era are all about.
Behind Mourinho and Guardiola the likes of David Moyes, Laurent Blanc, O'Neill, Owen Coyle, Mark Hughes and perhaps even Fabio Capello will have to be riding the crest of a wave to have any hope of getting the job. The chances of a left-field choice such as Andre Villas Boas look slim indeed.
Like Mourinho, Ferguson rules by the force of his personality but unlike Mourinho he has rebuilt his club from its foundations. He has had some difficult times over the past 25 years. He has had differences with the club's hierarchy, gambled on younger players, sold famous ones and most recently had to face down the nouveau riche clubs of English football. He has survived every challenge thrown at him.
In those terms we have no reference point to judge Mourinho. He has never stayed anywhere longer than the three years and four months he spent at Chelsea. Would Mourinho understand that United, like Liverpool in their golden days, venerate their managers but never put them on a throne? With Mourinho it always seems to be Jose, first; club, second.
The assumption has long been that Mourinho is the obvious choice for United. But really Guardiola looks much more of a natural fit. He is successful and he has built a new team his way. But he has done so in an understated way, working his way up from managing the club's junior teams which means he knows about the pervading culture of a club and his current side play in the best traditions of Barcelona.
Whether Guardiola will ever leave Barcelona is another matter. It may come down to a simple question of availability and Mourinho is available roughly every two years. There are similarities between him and Ferguson. The latter won his first European trophy, the Cup Winners' Cup, with Aberdeen in 1983 at the age of 41. Mourinho was 40 when he won the Uefa Cup with Porto 20 years later. Both of them built their success on cultivating a sense that they are fighting against the odds.
But if the young Ferguson, 44 when he came from Scotland in November 1986, looked, to the United board, like a bit of a firebrand then, think how Mourinho must seem to them now. They may one day still give him the job but after this week they will be watching his behaviour in tomorrow's second leg against Barcelona even closer, and examining their options all the harder.
French game in the dock after racial quota disgrace
The acutely embarrassing story for the French Football Federation – that they discussed limiting the number of African and Mahgreb-heritage players they took on in their academies – will not go away. The senior France team manager, Laurent Blanc, is implicated and now it seems that Gérard Houllier, their former technical director, was party to the discussions.
If this had taken place at the Football Association and involved the England manager he would have been on his way out the door by now. Never mind the excuse that the dual-nationality players sometimes favour playing international football for their parents' country of origin above France. This racial profiling is a disgrace and how it is resolved will tell us a lot about French football.
So would a free tracksuit really influence a referee?
Former referee Graham Poll described in his newspaper column on Saturday how Europe's biggest football clubs lavish gifts and favours on visiting referees – from the "beautiful watch" that Real Madrid gave him to the invitation to fill a trolley for free in the Borussia Dortmund club shop.
Yes, these attempts to curry favour are pretty transparent and laughable. But why on earth do these match officials accept these pathetic freebies? If they really want a Borussia Dortmund tracksuit, then they should buy one with their own money. As for the watch, there is nothing wrong with a polite refusal.
Otherwise, certain officials do nothing to discourage the view that they are way too much in awe of some of the clubs they referee.Reuse content