Jose Mourinho can't help but mix barbs with bouquets for Manchester United

Chelsea manager is kind about Moyes but still risks his wrath over Wayne Rooney

As the great what-ifs in English football history go, the one in which Jose Mourinho, not David Moyes, is appointed as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Mancheser United is one of the most intriguing. In fact, the way that Mourinho talks about United at times, you could be forgiven for wondering how much he thinks about it, too.

In the game of the weekend on Sunday, United travel to Stamford Bridge for the first time under Moyes and the manager of Chelsea was reminiscing again about his friendship with Ferguson. He talks about these things, it should be pointed out, because he is asked about them but once he gets going he requires no further encouragement.

It was Mourinho who first mentioned Wayne Rooney's name, before declaring that he believed the player would be sold to a foreign club this summer. And it was Mourinho who explained at great length the circumstances in which he found out earlier than most that Ferguson was stepping down at United after almost 27 years in charge.

"I only knew a couple of weeks before the announcement [about Ferguson], because my friend [Ferguson] was nice to me and trusted me completely," Mourinho said. "He told me something really important before the press. He said I was one of his best friends in football so he wanted me to know before I read about it.

"I was afraid because I was sure that it would never come from me but that someone might leak and 'the boss' might think it had come from me. So I was a bit under pressure. But just that. The same way he knew from me that I was coming back to Chelsea. Just things between friends. Nothing else."

Just things between friends. The boss. This is the way Mourinho likes to talk about Ferguson but none of it gets to the nub of the question. That being the reasons Ferguson believed that he should nominate Moyes, rather than Mourinho, as his successor. The Portuguese was asked once again why he thought he had not been "the chosen one" at Old Trafford and once again he answered that it was the Chelsea job he wanted all along.

When it was put to him that the El Pais journalist Diego Torres claimed in a recent book that he, Mourinho, had cried when told that it was Moyes, not him, who had got the United job, his response was unequivocal but light-hearted. "I think the person who writes the book shouldn't write books – he should write books for kids, imagination."

This is the Mourinho of 2014, for now at least. Trying to deflect the worst criticism with a joke and still ostensibly unburdened with the feuds that plagued him the first time around. In his initial spell at Chelsea, Mourinho fed off his anger and dissatisfaction, constantly. This time around, he is much more relaxed. He started the press conference by seeking out the ITV reporter Rags Martel, who has recently been given the all-clear from thyroid cancer, and shook his hand.

But Mourinho still cannot help himself, and the remarks about Rooney will be felt keenly within Old Trafford. He does nothing without a reason. He throws petals in Ferguson's path and is polite and positive about Moyes but one thing has not changed: Mourinho wants to sign Rooney. And while he believes he still has a chance of signing him these remarks will not cease.

He also picks his fights. Asked whether United would be seventh in the Premier League were he in charge, Mourinho said it was "impossible to judge or analyse". Asked to balance the merits of the two squads he said it was "an impossible judgement, there is no 'if'". Yet the suggestion that United's squad is below strength was one issue that he felt strongly about.

"United have the weakest squad of this era? I don't know," Mourinho said. "[If that is the case] they must show me their garbage box. If United have an average squad – wow.

"But do you believe they are not working on transfers? I believe they are working on that. I believe they have the targets clearly identified. I believe that, instead of bringing players in now, something to shut people up, they would rather wait a little bit longer to bring in exactly what they want.

"Sooner or later – sooner is now, later is in the summer – they will bring exactly the players David wants and players who will be important in the team. When a giant is sleeping, the giant is never sleeping. Be careful. Be careful.

"If you ask my opinion, I keep thinking that United will be [in the top four at the end of the season]. But if they don't, every player knows it's an occasional situation. It's not a situation that will last forever. It's not a situation where a player would think 'If I go to United, for two or three or four years, I won't play Champions League football'. It's not the case."

What is not in doubt is that the massive investment in Chelsea's squad in recent years overseen by Michael Emenalo and Roman Abramovich's various managers has given the club a much surer footing going into the summer. From the latest signing, Nemanja Matic, who is in the squad for tomorrow, to André Schürrle, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and Wallace, among others, the process of renewal is better established than at United.

This summer, the battle-lines for the likes of United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are already drawn. There will be fierce competition for Ross Barkley, Rooney and Luke Shaw, if indeed those players are allowed to leave their clubs. The homegrown, elite level English player is at a premium in the modern era of squad restrictions. Not least for Chelsea.

At the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford in August, Mourinho settled for a 0-0 draw in the second half on the basis that a win over United at Stamford Bridge would put the balance of points in his own favour, four to one. Win tomorrow – he is without the injured Branislav Ivanovic, although Frank Lampard returns to the squad – and the lead over United is 12 points.

"I feel my team is in a good moment, playing with some stability," he said. "The team is quite confident with the ball. Normally we are dominant and have possession of the game. It's an evolution in a certain direction. If the game was at Old Trafford now, I'd go in a different way. But that was the first away game of the season, at Old Trafford and important not to lose. In the end, a point was not a bad point. It's always a point."

At Old Trafford in August, Mourinho faced a United that was still in the post-Ferguson glow, only three months on from title No 20 and yet to confront the disappointment of the summer transfer window. It is a different club that comes to Stamford Bridge tomorrow and this is a game that the Chelsea manager expects his team to win.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map