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Special one gets chance to display quality to special club

sports Updated: Mar 10, 2009 10:27 IST
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If there was a world record for the fastest sprint by a manager in a designer overcoat, then Jose Mourinho's dash down the touchline at Old Trafford in 2004 would take some beating.

Five years and two days on from that groundbreaking and career-making event, Mourinho returns to the Theatre of Dreams on Wednesday for his first serious European assignment.

He may not be planning to rerun that iconic romp but it is a safe bet that the Portuguese coach is every bit as intent on ruining Sir Alex Ferguson's evening as he was when Porto were making his reputation by navigating their path to Champions League glory.

With the benefit of hindsight, the last-minute equaliser from Costinha that triggered Mourinho's jubilant jig five years ago could be seen as a moment of freakish good fortune.

Two goals from Benni McCarthy had enabled Porto to come from beind to secure a 2-1 first-leg lead. A Paul Scholes header early in the return match put United in the driving seat, and only a mistaken offside decision denied the midfielder a second that would have put the tie beyond reach long before Costinha's late equaliser sent Porto into the last eight, on the away goals rule.

Mourinho's subsequent history has demonstrated that the win at Old Trafford was far from being a fluke and, with only one defeat in his 13 direct encounters with Ferguson, he has earned the right to a bit of respect in these quarters.

Not that he doesn't know it, of course. Asked in the build-up if he saw himself as a potential successor to Ferguson at the head of the Old Trafford hierarchy, Mourinho was delightfully immodest.

"Special clubs need special managers, so in theory it could work," he said. "If you want me to rule out ever being Manchester United manger then I can't."

Ferguson declares himself immune to the provocation implied in such comments. "I'm used to him and I'm not shocked by anything he has to say anymore," said the Scot. "In the build-up to a match against Jose I have to expect everything from him."

United's manager went on to suggest United's current cop of players had simply to emulate their display in last weekend's 4-0 thrashing of Fulham if they are to continue to progress in the Champions League after a goalless stalemate in the first leg.

"We controlled them well in Milan - Inter only had a couple of half-chances in the second half," Ferguson reflected. "My players played with an incredible level of concentration. They have to do the same in the second leg.

United are sweating on the fitness of England centreback, Rio Ferdinand, who suffered an ankle injury in the win over Fulham on Saturday.

Inter will definitely feel disadvantaged by the loss of first-choice centrebacks Marco Matterazzi and Nicolas Burdisso, but Ibrahimovic will partly offset that.