José Mourinho returns to Old Trafford as Chelsea manager for the first time in six years, but for once his old friend and enemy Sir Alex Ferguson is not be in the home dugout. It is nearly a decade since the Portuguese ran down the Old Trafford touchline in celebration of Porto’s controversial Champions League victory in 2004; a moment that seemingly encapsulates the manager’s career. At once brilliant, infuriating, deceitful, and utterly conceited.
And permeating through the game remains Chelsea’s aggressive pursuit of Wayne Rooney this summer. Player and west London club have all but agreed the move south. United remain firm that the striker will not be allowed to move to a major rival for the Premier League.
Indeed, while Mourinho insists that no bid will be lodged before kick-off on Monday it is no coincidence that every major media outlet carried the story that Chelsea will offer up to £40 million for Rooney on Tuesday.
It only takes “an email” to place a bid said Mourniho on Friday. It is unlikely to be sent given United’s stance, with Mourinho keen it seems to get inside the player’s head. The ongoing saga can do little but unsettle a player who has long since moved on – mentally at least – from his nine years in Manchester.
Still, while Chelsea has been left in little doubt that Rooney is not for sale by Ed Woodward’s “terse warning” this week, Mourinho claimed on Friday that the prospective move to the London club would benefit English football in the round.
“That old-fashioned mentality of ‘I don’t sell players to the same country’ doesn’t help the market,” said Mourinho.
“You see in Italy, it happens every season without any problem. The player wants to move from Milan to Inter, from Inter to Milan, from Roma to Juventus, from Juventus to Inter, and they do this all the time.
“Sometimes you push players abroad when you should be interested in keeping them in your league, because you are contributing to make your league the best. So when you want to sell and you are pushing the players abroad I think you are giving the wrong contribution to the league.”
Mourinho said little of the prospective transfer’s affect on world peace, but it is probably only a matter of time.
Disrupting United’s start to the season is part of Mourinho’s design, of course, despite the Portuguese’s disingenuous claims to the contrary on Friday. And whether ill-conceived logic, or a tactical double bluff, David Moyes insists that Rooney could start against his prospective employers, although it is more likely the player’s frame-of-mind is far from sound for a match of such importance early in the season.
Yet, the focus is not solely on Mourinho and Rooney for Monday’s fixture. After all Moyes will take charge of his first competitive fixture at Old Trafford. It is set to be a special day for the 50-year-old Scot who has endured a tough couple of months as Sir Alex’ successor.
“There has been a lot of things I have been looking forward to – like taking the team on tour and leading them out at Wembley. But to do it at Old Trafford for the first game against Chelsea is a thrill for me, it really is,” the Scot said Friday.
“It would have been, no matter who we were playing. It is just part of my job though and once you do it, you get on and do your job. It is a great honour to be manager of Manchester United. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want to be in this position.”
The Rooney question aside Moyes has injury problems throughout the squad, with Rafael da Silva unavailable, while Ashley Young, Nani and Javier Hernández are not yet ready for selection. The Brazilian defender will spend a month on the sidelines, while others, says Moyes, are still playing catch up from a disrupted by injury or international football.
The Scot will choose between Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa for a place on the left wing, with Rooney likely to start from the bench. Antonio Valencia should start on the right flank in what could be an unchanged side.
Off the pitch comparisons between the two new managers are inevitable. In 11 seasons with Everton Moyes failed to secure any silverware, while Mournho has garnered seven league titles and two Champions League trophies in a similar period.
Reserved, conservative and uncontroversial, Moyes was always considered the more appropriate choice by United’s directors. While Mourinho’s penchant for picking a fight, with ensuing potential for collateral damage, was never a friend of the Glazer family’s clean-cut image.
Still, the two men have little history of controversy, alhtough Mourinho has secured five victories from six meetings between Chelsea and Everton during the Portguese’s first spell in west London.
“I really like José, he’s had great success and I’ve not seen him for a long time so I’m looking forward to seeing him,” said Moyes.
“I came (to United) for this sort of level of game, but I came to win trophies. If you are going to win trophies then you are going to have to beat teams like Chelsea and Manchester City because that’s the way our league is. I’m looking forward to it. It’s one of 38 league games we’ve got this season and it’s a great first home game.”
Moyes is under pressure though, especially given United’s failure to augment the Scot’s resources during the transfer window. Despite Moyes’ decision to replace most of the coaching staff at Old Trafford the team remains Ferguson’s; a shadow lengthened not only by the length of tenure but trophy count. And even in this Mourinho’s capacity to create doubt figures prominently.
“The history of Sir Alex is there forever. Is that a problem for David? I don’t think so because I don’t think David wants to be compared with Sir Alex,” said the former Real Madrid coach.
“David is an experienced manager and this is the best moment of his career. He has maturity, experience, a big club, very good players so he is in a fantastic position and I think he is going to do very well.
“I hope he doesn’t win everything and leaves something for the others. He knows to be successful he has to win trophies, but he has the potential to do that.”
That goal will certainly be easier should United beat Chelsea on Monday, with a reverse leaving the west Londoners six points clear so early in the campaign. And wouldn’t it fit the narrative so sweetly should Rooney score the winning goal?
Manchester United v Chelsea, Premier League, Old Trafford, 8pm 26 August 2013
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Valencia, Welbeck, Giggs; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Buttner, F da Silva, Smalling, Anderson, Zaha, Rooney
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Lampard; Oscar, Mata, Hazard; Ba. Subs from: Schwarzer, Azpilicueta, Mikel, De Bruyne, Van Ginkel, Schurrle, Lukaku
United 72 – Draw 49 – Chelsea 47
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: P Kirkup, S Long
Fourth Official: M Dean