“Ah, my old friend. I can see him now in his press conference saying, ‘I have a good record against Manchester.’ Some people don’t like him because he is impertinent, too sure of himself. Me, I like him a lot.” The man doing the talking is Sir Alex Ferguson and the old friend under discussion is, of course, José Mourinho, the self-anointed Special One.
The Manchester United manager even referred to that title on arrival in Milan yesterday and not with the derision that might have been expected when they first sat down in the manager’s office at Stamford Bridge in August 2004. Ferguson’s hackles were raised not so much by the smell of defeat, but by the whiff from the cheap bottle of Argentine Shiraz his host was uncorking.
Ferguson v Mourinho. Everything about the men says that it should be the most bitter of all the many managerial rivalries on Planet Football. In terms of image (Armani overcoat, 5 o’clock shadow, endless posturing), background (born to a bourgeois family whose fortunes dipped after the demise of the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal in the 1970s) and, above all, football ethos (if you want entertainment, go to the circus), Mourinho seems to stand for just about everything Ferguson holds abhorrent.
But they were at it again at their respective press conferences in Milan yesterday, the grizzled Scottish empire-builder and the suave Portuguese itinerant exchanging compliments, rather than the barbs both have been known to aim at a common adversary, Arsène Wenger.
When they come together on the touchline at the San Siro this evening, the Champions League theme blaring around them, it will be their first such meeting since Mourinho left Chelsea in September 2007. There have been encounters at Uefa coaching forums and the like and, most recently, when Mourinho went on a scouting mission to watch United defeat Chelsea 3-0 at
Old Trafford, but United’s visit to Inter Milan sees the renewal of that strange competitive rivalry — the one in which Mourinho always shows deference, addressing the elder statesman as “Boss”, before sending out his team to nullify and ultimately overpower United, as he will hope that his Inter team can do today.
It has been a long time since Ferguson has endured the kind of evening that Mourinho hopes to have in store for him today. United have not tasted defeat in 19 Champions League matches since their previous visit to the San Siro, for the chastening 3-0 loss to AC Milan in the semi-final, second leg in May 2007. That was a night that Ferguson continues to look back on ruefully, bemoaning the fatigue that had swept his squad and the injuries to Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and Patrice Evra that forced him to rush back a half-fit Nemanja Vidic into a makeshift defence. With Neville, Vidic, Wes Brown and Rafael Da Silva missing this time and with concerns over Jonny Evans and John O’Shea, it is not only the surroundings that might have given some of Ferguson’s players an unwelcome sense of déjà vu as they trained at the stadium last night.
As well as the lack of maturity shown in a self-indulgent display on that occasion by Cristiano Ronaldo, which the United manager quite surprisingly brought up at last night’s press conference, Ferguson often recalls how his makeshift team were blown away that night, above all by the flair of Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and Kaká. Inter do not have such artists at their disposal — and it is tempting to wonder whether Mourinho, if he had inherited them, might have driven them away by now — but they do have Zlatan Ibrahimovic, an enigma of a forward, whom Ferguson picked out as “without question, their star player”.
Even more talented and even more languid than Dimitar Berbatov, Ibrahimovic has never quite lived up to his hype in the Champions League — particularly against English opponents, having played poorly in matches against Liverpool, in 2005 and 2008, and Arsenal — or, save for a spectacular back-heel equaliser against Italy for Sweden in Euro 2004, on the international stage, but, increasingly, the penny has dropped.
“I have watched him for many years and, now that he has developed and he’s at an age  where you expect a bit of maturity, he’s getting all the praise he deserves,” Ferguson said. That praise has included Mourinho calling him the best player in the world — comparable to Ronaldo, his Portuguese compatriot.
With Ronaldo having been frustrated by his struggle to reproduce the form of the previous two stellar campaigns, it seemed telling that he was given a public reminder yesterday by Ferguson of what is expected of him.
It will not be easy this evening; experience tells United, but above all Ronaldo, that playing against a Mourinho team is rarely fruitful and less often enjoyable.
His teams’ styles are not everyone’s idea of a sporting idyll, least of all Ferguson’s, but, whatever the outcome in this collision of cultures, expect the victor to be toasted with a bottle of fine wine, because, if there is one thing Mourinho has learnt over the past five years, it is that only the best bottle is good enough for the Boss.
The battle of the season i’d say. these are among the three of my favourite club managers. Mourinho vs Ferguson. They have the right character to lead a team. Best strategist. An excellent motivator.
But for tonight’s game, i wish Manchester United triumph. I have been a big fan of this club since i was a kid. 1992. Eric Cantona. Then i’ve seen Giggs, Scholes, Neville, and O’Shea, Brown grew with me. It was Ferguson back then. And today, he is still there.
Owh i did mention “three of my best club managers”. These are those three guys:
Sir Alex Ferguson – his discipline is what i like most. none dares to go against him. he’s da boss. and if they do, they won’t be long there. his ability to control his enormous group of great talents makes him the finest of them. and this guy knows very well how to pick his scouts. they’ve scouted talented players from all over the world. and these yound players have been a great foundation for the future Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho – what i like this guy most is his words. arrogant and bold. yet he knows every word he says. he meant every words. master at giving psychological pressure to his opponents. i have followed him since he started with Porto. great excellent character.
Arsene Wenger – apart from those two, he had a hard time to get as much trophy. i like him because he dares to bring up those young new players to play against the big boys. and those players did well. and not only they did well, their gameplay was awesome sometimes. but experience is one big factor especially in crucial games during crucial times. yet these boys excels.. one day they will be a great team. just hoping that Manchester United will be greater.. =p
There are others. but these are my top three. why i mention “club managers” and not “managers”? i do not want to include those national team coaches. it’s a different way of doing things. Scolari did well with Brazil and Portugal but not that well with Chelsea. National team is a different style altogether. Anyway, these are my preferred three club managers..
article from TimesOnline