Mourinho plays mind games with Ferguson

Glenn Moore
Tuesday 09 March 2004 01:00

Jose Mourinho wants to work in the Premiership. After his performance yesterday, those of mischievous bent will hope he gets his wish, preferably at a club where he can get under Sir Alex Ferguson's skin.

The Manchester United manager refused to shake hands with his Porto counterpart after the first leg of this Champions' League second-round tie, angered at the Portuguese champions' perceived gamesmanship. Should United fail to overturn Porto's 2-1 advantage at Old Trafford tonight, Mourinho may again find the niceties unobserved.

Yesterday Mourinho, who cut his coaching teeth translating for Sir Bobby Robson in the Iberian Peninsula, used his excellent English to taunt Ferguson. The Scot had earlier reiterated his contempt for the ease with which Porto's players fell to ground, and for Vitor Baia's reaction in the first-leg incident which prompted the dismissal of Roy Keane. Mourinho responded: "I disagree with [him]. I prefer to talk about the good things in football, not stupid things. It is not easy to lose to a small team. In Portugal we are the big team and it is hard to accept losing to a small one.

"They think they are better than us but they must be worried about us given what has been said. I don't understand why. They have beaten everyone in the Champions' League. The last time Porto were here we lost 4-0. They are the best team. They are the favourites. They have everything.

"They will beat us easily and everyone will be very happy. They will be through and we will be able to concentrate on the Portuguese league without having to play so many games."

Of Keane, who is suspended tonight, he added: "Roy Keane is not my problem. It is a problem for Roy Keane, Mr Ferguson and the Manchester United board."

There is, of course, a subtext to both mens' remarks, as Mourinho acknowledged when he said: "In football there are two sides, the emotional and the intelligent, but you must not think the emotional is stupid. He can also be clever. I understand he has a strategy."

Mind games they may be but they will add an edge. Not that the tie needed it. Should United fail, it will be the first time in eight seasons that they have not reached the last eight of this competition. It will also leave them relying on beating Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final to have any chance of silverware.

They could, incidentally, also meet Arsenal in this competition as the quarter-final draw is an open one.

Oddly, for a club with their cup-fighting tradition, United appear to have mastered the art of qualifying from Champions' League group stages only to struggle in the knock-out rounds. Since lifting the trophy in 1999, they have won one tie in five. The problem has been at home where they have conceded crucial away goals.

Ferguson believes United will go through if they keep a clean sheet but his dislocated defence has not done that in 10 matches. It will help if Mikaël Silvestre passes a morning fitness test. If he fails, Phil Neville will drop into defence.

United will also need to keep their discipline in the face of Porto's expected antics. After Celtic failed to do so in the Uefa Cup final, Martin O'Neill was more furious than Ferguson. Was the problem, Mourinho was asked, a clash of footballing cultures. "No," he said, "it is a problem of results. If we lose 5-0, no one will speak about cheating." Ferguson might even shake his hand.

Manchester United (probable 4-4-2): Howard; G Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O'Shea; Ronaldo or Butt, P Neville, Scholes, Giggs; Saha, Van Nistelrooy.

Porto (probable 4-1-3-2): Baia; P Ferreira, Costa, Carvalho, Valente; Costinha; Deco, Maniche, Alenitchev; McCarthy, Carlos Alberto.

Referee: V Ivanov (Russia).

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