Andy Mitten

How Fergie inspired Mourinho to come to England

Andy Mitten

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Ask most Manchester United fans who they would like to see replace Sir Alex Ferguson and the name you will hear most frequently is Jose Mourinho.

There's not absolute conviction, just as Real Madrid fans were not convinced when his name was first linked to their club earlier in the year, but if anyone is big enough to step into Ferguson's shoes, it's the Special One.

Mourinho said last week that he considered Madrid to be the biggest team in the world, saying that when they travel it's like the Beatles arriving in San Francisco.

He stated also that his intention was to win the European Cup during the four years which he is contracted to Real Madrid. His reputation as a great manager would be secured if he brought that elusive 10th European Cup to Madrid and he'd be the first to win club football's greatest trophy in three different countries. Yet he never won the competition while at Chelsea.

Mourinho has also said that he'd like to return to England. He puts his obvious enthusiasm for management in England down to Alex Ferguson. The pair met for the first time in 1996 when Mourinho was a lowly assistant to Bobby Robson at Barcelona. A United delegation including Ferguson flew to Catalonia to sign Jordi Cruyff. Robson had been telling the young Mourinho how a coach in England was much more hands on.

"In Portugal or Spain, it would not be normal for a coach to be involved," recalls Mourinho in Patrick Barclay's new biography of Sir Alex Ferguson, published this Thursday.

"I realised that England was different. It was a perfect example of what Bobby had been telling me."

"His (Ferguson's) ideas were very clear. He was fighting hard for his club. And an understanding of that dimension of management made me take an even greater interest in the English game, to fall in love with it even before I came.

"I had always thought that the coach should not just do a training session a day, then go home and watch a couple of videos of the opposition and come in and do the same thing the next day. And here I saw the English style of management - and it was Sir Alex."

The pair would come head-to-head eight years later when United drew FC Porto in the Champions League. United were leading in Portugal, but lost, with Roy Keane sent off.

"Most people thought Sir Alex was going mad about it after the game," said Mourinho. "But for me - especially now that I have got to know him - he was not mad. He was starting to play the second game."

It began in the tunnel.

"He and I were walking to the dressing rooms at the same time and he was shaking hands with me but not looking at me because the referee was coming behind us and Alex was complaining in his Scottish accent about the referee's decisions. I didn't interfere. I just let him get on with it.

"At that moment, I think, he felt he was in trouble.

"Manchester United had gone into the game with respect, of course, but expecting to beat Porto. And now he knew Porto was a team of some resources too. And so he started, as I have done all my career - and he's the master at it - to play the next game before it starts. In this case he was trying to create an atmosphere in which his own team would want revenge.

"He went into the press conference, mentioned that Porto had won a few titles and said maybe we had got used to buying them at the supermarket! He was trying to put the knife into his own players while making mine - young boys, mainly, unaccustomed to the Champions League - feel a little low, as if they had not deserved to win."

Porto prevailed at Old Trafford to go through. Describing the pandemonium in the dressing room, Mourinho says: "You would have thought we had won the World Cup. And then there was a knock on the door. It was Alex, with Gary Neville. As they came in, everybody fell silent, respectful. The party stopped. The party was over. And, as Gary Neville went round shaking hands with my players, Alex shook hands with me and said that, after the press conference, I was invited to come to his office for a drink.

"What a special person it was, I thought, who would do anything to win but, if he lost, still do that. At that moment I made a decision. It was that, if I ever came to England, I would follow this example."

Mourinho arrived at Chelsea soon after and his meetings with Ferguson became commonplace.

"Beforehand," said Mourinho, "we would play our game with words. Then there would be the game on the field. And afterwards - win, lose, draw - our tradition was to have a bottle of wine.

"He started it. He always had one in his office. So I decided it could not always be him and brought a bottle myself, a good one, Portuguese. And that started a competition. Who would bring the best bottle? Who would bring the most expensive? He came with a fine Bordeaux, I would retaliate - always with a Portuguese wine - and so it went on."

Football - Bloody Hell! by Patrick Barclay is published on October 14 by Yellow Jersey Press.

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