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Your Alex Ferguson – José Mourinho Champions League Mind Games Scrapbook

Sir Alex Ferguson can’t wait to lock horns with Jose Mourinho again after Manchester United were handed a Champions League second round showdown against Inter Milan. —AFP, December 19, 2008

Mourinho delighted to lock horns with Sir Alex once again Taipei Times headline, December 20, 2008

Ferguson And Mourinho Lock Horns Soccer365 headline, December 19, 2008

Never in the history of modern ritual antler combat have two bucks been quite as eager to lock horns as Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho in advance of the February 24 Champions League matchup between the warring herds of Manchester United and Inter. The whole cervine world, in fact, filled with nostalgia for a time when the two would lock horns regularly, according to a seasonal schedule based on the flowering of natural cycles and the ghostlike spawning of a luxury coach down the M6 from Manchester, is almost as breathless as the two stags themselves in anticipation of this latest in their classic string of horn-lockings.

However, as anyone not contractually bound to certain revanchist manifestations of the Real Ale movement can tell you, media management is increasingly important in this era of rising globalization and the searing bright “hunter’s orange” away kit. What was once a simple antler-butting exercise undertaken in a clearing for the right to mate with a doe has become a complex and delicate odyssey of psychological manipulation and covert appeals to the mythical Asian shirt-buyer.

Fortunately, however, for all those who rely on tabloid newspapers to shield them from human contact as they ride, hunched, down the clattering train tracks to work every morning, Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho are two of the deftest members of a ruminant woodland species ever to routinely exploit the global football media. And since the run-up to the locking of horns can be crucial in determining which sexually mature male will emerge victorious and transmit his genetic material to a future generation of offspring, we offer this dramatic scrapbook of the back-and-forth they have engaged in via press conference and targeted interview to the official streaming TV station of their club’s website in this, the beginning of the 2009 Champion’s League knockout phase season.

WHEN: 19 December, 2008

WHAT: Inter and Manchester United are drawn to face one another in the first round of the Champions League knockout stage.

MOURINHO’S RESPONSE: Respectful but confident. “I wanted United because I wanted to face the best.”

FERGUSON’S RESPONSE: Wary admiration; careful lowering of expectations. “He’s a character with a good personality and I’ve always got on well with him. He knocked us out of the competition when he was at Porto, so I hope we have the luck they had in that tie this time round.”

HOWEVER: Mourinho also casually implied that he thought Wayne Rooney should be banned for his stamp on AaB Alborg defender Kasper Risgård.

FERGUSON’S RESPONSE: [Silence]

THEN: Three days later

MOURINHO: Declared that Inter’s star striker Zlatan Ibrahimović was better than Manchester United’s World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo.

FERGUSON’S COUNTER-MOVE: [Nothing]

IT THEN TRANSPIRED THAT: Manchester United won the Club World Cup tournament in Tokyo, during the final game of which United defender Nemanja Vidić was sent off for throwing an elbow.

SO MOURINHO OBVIOUSLY: Declared in La Gazzetta that Vidić should be banned for the United-Inter Champions League matches.

WHILE ALSO: More insistently repeating his claim that Wayne Rooney should be suspended for the Risgård stamp.

FERGUSON’S EXPERT REVERSAL: [Whistling softly, looking at the sky.]

ALSO AT THIS TIME: Which was around 2 January

MOURINHO STATED HIS PREFERENCE FOR MANAGING: Inter over Manchester United, arguing that Inter were improving while implying that United were not.

FERGUSON’S JUJITSU-LIKE USE OF HIS OPPONENT’S MOMENTUM AGAINST HIM: [...]

THEN: Mourinho, who used to manage Chelsea, as you may know,

BOOKED A SEAT AT: Manchester United’s massive game against Chelsea at Old Trafford this Sunday,

ENSURING THAT EVERYONE WOULD REMINISCE ABOUT: How successful his Chelsea teams were against United, and the fact that going back to his Porto days he has lost only once in the twelve matches he’s played against Manchester United,

WHICH IS IMPRESSIVE BECAUSE: Almost no one enjoys that kind of success against Alex Ferguson.

ALEX FERGUSON’S RESPONSE: [seriously, "..."]

And that’s where time has taken us. Mourinho has seized every opportunity to needle his opponent, while Ferguson has maintained a silence more suited to the bronze statue of himself that will one day loom outside Old Trafford than to the huffing press megaphone who currently works inside it.

A diligent reader of men could conclude that Mourinho is trying to give his traditionally Champions League-numb squad a bit of extra confidence and motivation, while Ferguson is expressing a deep-seated certitude in his players. Or it may be that Mourinho is merely an ass, while Ferguson has been too busy carpet-bombing Ramón Calderón to waste any munitions on one expensively top-coated Portuguese. In either case, their tactics have been intriguingly opposed, and it will be the height of fascination to see how they say things or do not say things into microphones between now and the end of February.

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Your Alex Ferguson – José Mourinho Champions League Mind Games Scrapbook

by Brian Phillips · January 9, 2009

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