United manager ups the pressure

Ferguson v Mourinho: Let the title contest commence
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The Independent Online

The question brought a thin smile to Sir Alex Ferguson's lips. Would Jose Mourinho ever have become manager of Chelsea without the last-minute goal that saw Porto eliminate Manchester United from the Champions' League last season?

The question brought a thin smile to Sir Alex Ferguson's lips. Would Jose Mourinho ever have become manager of Chelsea without the last-minute goal that saw Porto eliminate Manchester United from the Champions' League last season?

"I'm not sure," he replied. The two legs of that tie which culminated in Mourinho racing along the touchline at Old Trafford, saw Ferguson outmanoeuvred on and off the pitch. After the first leg in Portugal, which United were lucky to have lost only 2-1, Mourinho sat back in the press room at the Dragao Stadium and reflected that, of course, the Manchester United manager would be upset at the result - he had just lost to a club with a tenth of his budget.

Tomorrow at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho finds himself no longer a relative pauper, but at the helm of a club which has spent almost as much in 12 months as Ferguson has in nearly 18 years at Old Trafford. As the Scot reflected, all Mourinho has to prove is his judgement.

Ferguson holds no truck with the theory that with seven very expensive new players added to their squad, the time to play Chelsea is now before they gel. It did not hold water last season after an equally frantic round of summer spending by Claudio Ranieri, who won six of his first seven matches, and Ferguson does not expect it to happen now.

"He's not bringing kids in, these are international players," he said. "You have to know the individuals; if you are buying the right character it can help. Arsenal bought [Patrick] Vieira, who brought a lot into their team in terms of attitude and a winning mentality."

Ferguson smiled again when asked to reflect on Mourinho's typically immodest assertion that he is now the best coach in Europe. "That's another observation, I'm just sitting here like the rest of us, waiting to see how he unfolds. He is not going to a team that he has to build with no money available.

"When I started 30 years ago I had £2,000 to buy six players," Ferguson added, harking back to his time at East Stirling in Scotland. "Some coaches start their journey with no money at all having to sell players. Mourinho has come in at the top with a generous benefactor in [Roman] Abramovich. The only pressure he is under is for his judgement."

Manchester United begin their Premiership campaign in the unusual position of being third favourites for the title. Ferguson admitted United were "well off the pace" in the 3-1 defeat in the Community Shield against Arsenal, although he argued that of Arsène Wenger's team used last Sunday, only two had played at Euro 2004.

However, he confirmed the experiment of deploying Roy Keane at centre-half against Dinamo Bucharest would not be repeated at Stamford Bridge. The move had not failed - despite a patchy performance United did win 2-1 - it was simply to counter the oppressively intimidating atmosphere of a night game in the Balkans.

"The great test for us is how long we can go on," Ferguson added. "To stay at the top in this country for 13 years is very difficult and that is down to the character of our team.

"Wednesday night in Bucharest was exactly what we were talking about. We lost an early goal but we didn't panic because we had been there before and done it."

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