We all know about the warm yet competitive friendship between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, and yet the actions and reaction of the ‘Special One’ to his Real Madrid side’s arguably fortuitous victory over 10 man Manchester United in last night’s Champions League knockout clash hinted at something a little deeper.
Throughout most of last night’s game, Mourinho sat in the opposition dugout, quietly observing his team be outplayed by a vibrant, fearless Utd side, occasionally whispering to his staff, undoubtedly a little perturbed at the evening’s events. It was only when the red card was brandished to Nani for a ‘coming together’ with Arbeloa that Mourinho finally came to life.
The sight of an apoplectic Sir Alex launch himself at the fourth official with all the subtleties of a rabid wolf was enough to coax the oddly quiet Mourinho from his seat, and begin patrolling the touchline. The Portuguese began directing proceedings, ensuring that Madrid’s reaction to their numerical advantage was swift and brutal.
By throwing on Luca Modric for right back Arbeloa, Mourinho injected added agility in the final third, and it was the Croat’s goal that drew Madrid level in the tie, and gave Madrid the momentum they needed to go on to finish Utd off with Ronaldo’s goal three minutes later.
What was most poignant was Mourinho’s subtle word with Ferguson as the game neared its conclusion. Despite his attempt at illusion, it had all the hallmarks of a reluctant apology, and judging from Ferguson’s defeated shrug, there was to be no doubt that Mourinho saw the event as an unfortunate mess where neither man could come away truly satisfied.
The fallout to the game gave even more food for thought. Ferguson, it seemed, was far beyond having a reasoned, calm post-match interview. So it was down to Mourinho to face the cameras. His words held no congratulations for his players’ persistence and determination in the face a serious adversary, and their fight-back in the tie. There was only more reluctance, and an attitude which emanated more than just professional respect and an on-going friendship between him and the beleaguered Scot.
“Independent of the decision (to send Nani off), the best team lost. We didn’t deserve to win but football is like this,”
…Mourinho told the BBC, before adjusting his jacket and wandering off back to the dressing room.
Lest we forget, Mourinho’s Madrid had just beaten Man Utd at Old Trafford and clinched a place in the Champions League Quarter Final. They had come back from 2-1 on aggregate, and scored two wonderful away goals to poleaxe Utd, the best team in England, and continue their remarkable winning streak since the first leg that includes beating Barcelona twice in the space of a week.
But Mourinho’s body language was defensive, apologetic, and most crucially, irritable. It was almost, and I stress almost, like listening to a Utd manager angrily suggest that the result reeked of injustice.
Mourinho is one of the most fascinating characters in the game, full of wit, sarcasm and a prevailing arrogance that either endures of repels fans from all corners. It is no secret that his time in Madrid has been a difficult one. The omnipotence of Barcelona in Europe and domestically has been a constant barrier between Mourinho’s supremely talented team and prolonged success.
He won La Liga last year, his greatest achievement in Spain, but this season has seen him fall out with a number of high profile players in the squad, and his relationship with the Real royalty is strained to say the least. His body language and general eccentricity has noticeably diminished during his time there, and there will be few surprises if this season is his last with Madrid.
Questions have been rife as to his next port of call, and near the top of every reporter’s question sheet is one that links him with the Old Trafford hot seat. He has continued to distance himself from this, stoutly defending his ‘friend’ Sir Alex against any vultures that would look to unsettle the apple cart.
His defence of Ferguson extended to the Scot’s tactics last night, namely leaving Wayne Rooney on the bench for such an important Champions League second leg.
“Sir Alex has won the right for every decision to be correct and never have a question mark against them, he is the best. He is the top.” Mourinho told the Telegraph
“You (reporter) are nobody to put a question like that. I am nobody. He did a great job.”
Mourinho did not wait to see the last seconds of last night’s game; there was no mad dash onto the pitch that is now synonymous with the Portuguese, but a slow exit down the tunnel, not waiting to see his rampant Madrid side launch yet another attack against the mortally wounded Utd.
It was another strange move, not in keeping with the importance and grandeur of the game; it was again full of pity, reluctance, and not far from shame. Utd fans took the opportunity to either berate or applaud the former Chelsea manager as he left the pitch with all the body language of a losing manager. Unique though he may be, this was a new look for the most attention seeking of managers. But what was he seeking with his sullen attitude and stout defence of Sir Alex?
As with all imminent job seekers, it would be unwise to alienate yourself from prospective employers and, judging from the reactions of many Utd fans on a variety of social mediums, the very first ‘interview’ at Old Trafford went as well as Mourinho could make it. Jose may not be sat in the Utd dugout for a few seasons yet, as the incorrigible Sir Alex looks no closer to taking the trip ‘upstairs’ to the executive’s box, but Mourinho knows full well that there can be no better job in his beloved English football than that of Manchester United manager.
His continued dismissal of talk about his eventual arrival in Manchester stems from his love and respect for Sir Alex just as much as it does from his knowledge that now is not his time. But nights like last night go to show that he will always have half an eye on the prize that he can’t win, but has to earn.
What do you make of Mourinho’s strange behaviour last night? Do United fans think he’ll replace Ferguson one day?