Low-key Mourinho tries out for Man United job

Posted by Rob Train

Jose Mourinho consoles Nani as he is sent from the pitchAPJose Mourinho consoles Nani as he is sent from the pitch

It was on the turf of the Theatre of Dreams that Jose Mourinho exploded into the English consciousness. The hitherto largely unknown coach of Porto had travelled to Old Trafford with a 2-1 advantage from the first leg of the Champions League tie in his pocket. Paul Scholes appeared to have sent Manchester United through to the quarter-finals with a 32nd minute strike that was the only goal of the game until the final minute. Then Costinha popped up to latch on to a parried freekick and slotted home the rebound. Mourinho, in his trademark overcoat, leapt from the dugout, punched the air in glee and raced down the touchline to celebrate with his players.

- Mourinho: 'The best team lost'

It was a decent audition for a job in English football. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had certainly seen enough and when Porto eventually lifted the Champions League title, the Russian oligarch made his move. A considerable pay rise and a salivating media awaited Mourinho in west London, where in an early press conference he made his infamous 'special one' remark, which swiftly became his handle.

When he eventually left Chelsea as its most successful manager in history, Mourinho had also left his mark on several sets of fans and rival coaches. His relationship with Rafa Benitez was frosty to say the least and the Portuguese was once escorted from the field after inviting Liverpool's fans to be quiet in the 2005 League Cup final. He raised a few eyebrows when he threw his championship medal into the crowd at Stamford Bridge and drew the displeasure of Arsene Wenger by calling him a "voyeur", which led the Frenchman to describe Mourinho as "stupid."

Practically the only club and the only manager he did not go out of his way to rub up the wrong way in his time in England was Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. If the grizzled Scot -- whose bulbous nose has not been aided by Mourinho's habit of bringing a bottle of wine to his office each time the sides met -- wondered just who the upstart prancing down the touchline at Old Trafford in 2004 was. By the time Mourinho left England for Italy the two had become mutual admirers.

Which makes Mourinho's behaviour this week in Manchester all the more understandable. There is little doubt that had Chelsea, currently coached by the 'interim one', been on the receiving end of such a turnaround Mourinho wouldn't have been able to contain himself. As it was, in the bowels of Old Trafford after the match, Mourinho told the media that the better team had lost. In arguably a first for two football managers after a game, Mourinho even concurred that Nani should not have been dismissed after a collision with Alvaro Arbeloa.

"Independent of the decision, the best team lost. We didn't deserve to win but football is like this. My feeling is that Manchester United were playing very well, were very compact and aggressive in a good way. I doubt that 11 v 11 we would win the match," Mourinho stated.

Ferguson reported himself too distraught to speak to the media after the game, but was probably more concerned about incurring a ban for a colourful Glaswegian rearrangement of the given name of referee Cuneyt Cakir. Before the match, Ferguson once again deferred his decision to retire in his program notes: "People ask me why I don't retire after so many years in the game but how could anyone with an ounce of passion for football in their soul voluntarily walk away from the opportunity to be involved in this type of occasion," the gnarled 71-year-old wrote. But in reality, how many years does Ferguson have left in him? And who could possibly step into the sizeable void left by his departure?

Only one name in management springs immediately to mind, and it is that of the man who leapt up and down on the Old Trafford touchline in 2004. Chelsea fans have been singing his name for some time as their patience with Benitez, who said while in charge of Liverpool that he would never take the Chelsea job and criticized the club's fans, wears thinner by the day. At Old Trafford on Tuesday Mourinho's name was also chanted to the rafters. His humble departure from the field before the whistle and subsequent commentary will have won him a few friends at United, a club that stands largely alone in not having any reason to detest the prickly Portuguese.

If 2004 was an audition for a "big club" job, Tuesday at Old Trafford was a direct application for arguably the biggest job in the game.

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