Mourinho more worried by bird flu than United

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The Independent Football

He did not quite pronounce Manchester United's Premiership title ambitions as lifeless as Monty Python's dead parrot but Jose Mourinho recovered his sense of humour yesterday when he said that he was more worried about the threat of bird flu than Chelsea throwing away their second consecutive title.

The Chelsea manager ended his most recent sulk - following his side dropping five points in the last two games - by also mischievously suggesting, with the help of an old Portuguese proverb, that United risk killing themselves with the effort if they try to claw back the champions' seven-point lead. The harassed, truculent aspect that Mourinho has worn over the last two weeks was thrown off as he said that he had no fears going into a weekend that will prove crucial in the title race.

Chelsea play West Ham United tomorrow, four hours before United host Arsenal, but Mourinho said he was so relaxed about the title that he would be on a flight back to Lisbon rather than watching the match. His greatest concern, he said, was whether he should "buy masks" for his team after the discovery of a swan in Fife this week that died from the bird flu virus.

"I am feeling a lot of pressure with this swan in Scotland. I am serious - to me, pressure is bird flu," Mourinho said. "You are laughing but I am serious. I am more scared of the swan than football. What is football compared to life? A swan with bird flu: that for me is the drama of the last two days. I will have to buy some masks."

It was a move calculated to show that Mourinho has no fear of his side failing with the finishing line in sight - like the racehorse Devon Loch. Mourinho said he was well acquainted with the sad story of the 1956 Grand National loser but added that he had a Portuguese proverb that stood as a warning to United. The risk of "dying on the beach" - "morrer na praia" - was, he said, a fate that befell any team that expended too much effort chasing the leaders.

Mourinho compared Chelsea and United to two swimmers at sea with his club the "good swimmer" and United "the fellow who wants to chase me". Demonstrating his full range of swimming strokes for the press in the race for the shore, Mourinho said that Chelsea's swim to the beach would be effortless - but United's fatal. "When he [United] reaches the beach," he said, "he dies." "We call it 'dying on the beach' - he shouldn't chase me," Mourinho said. "He should say to the boat, 'Please take me a little bit closer.' He's so enthusiastic chasing me - 'gasp, gasp, gasp' - but has a heart attack. That's our Devon Loch."

If the progress of Arsenal to the Champions' League semi-finals this week made painful viewing for Mourinho, then he refused to let it show, saying that Arsenal "have played well in the Champions' League and they're getting results." He could not resist one dig at Arsène Wenger, saying that had their League positions been reversed, and Chelsea were 25 points behind Arsenal, then the criticism he would receive would be far harsher.

"They deserve what you write about them, but at the same time, I can imagine, 'Jose Mourinho 25 points behind the leader in the Premiership'," he said with mock horror. "I have no preference [who wins it]. It's good for English football if you can be European champion two consecutive years, for the country it's fantastic."

Mourinho attacked any suggestion that he had fallen out with the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, or with anyone else at Chelsea including the club's "dog and cat". He said that he was already planning for the summer's signings and, with a contract until 2010, would not be leaving for Internazionale in the summer. "If I speak with a player I would like to have here next season, why would I not be here at the end of the season?" he asked.

He admitted he was interested in the Germany captain Michael Ballack, who will be available on a free transfer in the summer, although he suggested the Bayern Munich midfielder was struggling to make up his mind about his future. There were, Mourinho said, "doubts" about where Ballack would go - "he's a free agent and doesn't know what to do - stay in Bayern, go to Chelsea, Real Madrid or Barcelona."

Mourinho added he had no fear over the compatibility of Ballack, 29, with Frank Lampard. "He is a player who I like and big players can play together," he said. "The problem is bad players playing together - there's a big confusion on the pitch."

Despite the recent criticism of Didier Drogba and Shaun Wright-Phillips, Mourinho said that he never encouraged his players to cheat and said that England was the most honest football country in the world. "I don't like to win matches by cheating or the referee making mistakes because the players created a difficult situation," he said. "The players know I don't like it."