Ferguson the unlikely mentor for Mourinho

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The Independent Online

Some time - who knows, even tomorrow maybe - Jose Mourinho will suffer defeat in a crucial game as Chelsea manager. When it happens, Mourinho will do his best to lose gracefully and move on - courtesy of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Some time - who knows, even tomorrow maybe - Jose Mourinho will suffer defeat in a crucial game as Chelsea manager. When it happens, Mourinho will do his best to lose gracefully and move on - courtesy of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Chelsea may have inflicted on Ferguson the Manchester United manager's first ever domestic semi-final defeat in Wednesday's Carling Cup but the wily old Scot can still teach the young Portuguese pretender a thing or two in terms of how to swallow his pride.

The vanquished Ferguson, agreed to share a bottle of Mourinho's most expensive wine after Wednesday's game, something that touched his opposite number. "I'm learning a lot from him," said Mourinho yesterday after being charged with improper conduct by the Football Association for comments made following the Carling Cup first-leg draw against Manchester United.

"I need to improve myself because I'm a bad loser. When I lose, I'm not always interested in sharing the next half an hour with the person who beats me. But he showed me a lot of respect even though he had just lost a semi-final. When I have this kind of teacher, it's clear I too must open my door to the winner when I lose one day."

Mourinho and Ferguson even sat down to watch part of a live Spanish game in Ferguson's office before Mourinho took his leave, a very different scenario to the war of words between Ferguson and the third member of the championship-chasing triumvirate, Arsenal's Arsène Wenger, who Ferguson describes as the game's "worst loser".

Mourinho displayed his own irascible side following the match against United on 12 January when he said: "Sir Alex was very clever, if you can say that, at half-time by putting some pressure on the ref. In the second half it was whistle and whistle, fault and fault, cheat and cheat." He has until 14 February to respond to the charge. If he admits the charge or is found guilty he could be warned, fined or banned from the touchline.

But Mourinho, it seems, has something Wenger has not in terms of placating the notoriously fiery Ferguson.

Not that Wenger has exactly endeared himself to Mourinho either in recent weeks, suggesting that Chelsea have lacked flair. Cue another typical Mourinho riposte. "I think we have been the most exciting team," he said. "Anyway, what is flair? For me winning a game 5-4 is not flair, it's more like hockey than football. For me, flair is defending fantastically and scoring a lot more goals than you concede."

Despite having virtually sewn up the Premiership and placed one hand on the Carling Cup, Mourinho will nevertheless prepare thoroughly for tomorrow's visit of Birmingham in the the senior cup competition.

"The FA Cup is very nice," he said, perhaps the only manager who has the luxury of thus describing the world's oldest domestic knockout tournament. Most Premiership clubs still in the running regard this weekend's fourth round as a critical stage of their season but Mourinho has plenty of other fish to fry.

He will again rotate his squad, with Carlo Cudicini getting a start in goal in place of Petr Cech. Eidur Gudjohnsen or Mateja Kezman are likely to replace Didier Drogba, with Glen Johnson coming in for Paulo Ferreira at right-back. "I don't think the team will be worse off with three or four changes," said Mourinho. "We can't just throw away this competition. If I felt like that, I'd play a completely reserve team. We play every game with ambition but of course I have to play a better side than we did in the last round against Scunthorpe because we face a Premiership team."

Mourinho isn't sure what to expect from Steve Bruce's team. "Maybe they will think that winning the FA Cup is a great way of getting into Europe. Or maybe they will take the view that they are still in a difficult league position and prefer to field a weakened team. For us, the key is to keep the motivation high but I don't really have to motivate these players. It's like a crusade for them. They don't really need me to give them self-belief."

And the quadruple, which has now come down to odds of 10-1? Nigh on impossible, said Mourinho, not for the first time. "I'm not a specialist on results. In fact I'm one of the worst at it," he said. "Our kit man is best at predictions, followed by the masseur. All I will say is that to win all four is very, very difficult. What is for sure is that we will win something."

And that, Mourinho admitted for the first time, is almost certain to be the League. "I think it will be easier for us right now to win the League rather than either the FA Cup or the Champions' League," he said.

"To win the Champions' League, you need luck. Nobody can criticise us if we lose against Barcelona. It's a battle of the giants and if it slips away, it's because of the quality of our opponents. But to win the Premiership, you need to be the best and that's what we've been."

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