Mourinho still special to Sir Alex Ferguson

The beleaguered Real Madrid coach still has one friend left in football, which could see him replace the Scot as manager of Manchester United.

The antics of Jose Mourinho, right, the Real Madrid coach, over the past two weeks have brought condemnation from within his own camp, although he has a very powerful ally in Sir Alex Ferguson.
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Confirmation at last: Jose Mourinho will be the next manager of Manchester United FC. Sir Alex Ferguson said so this week.

OK, he did not use those exact words, but the Scotsman's frank admission that he will seek the Portuguese's help to defeat Barcelona in the European Champions League final speaks volumes.

Even by his own bullish standards, the Real Madrid coach has not endured a more self-destructive period than the last fortnight.

His negative tactics and churlish behaviour before, during and after Real's two most recent clashes against Barcelona have infuriated football purists, including those in his own backyard.

The former Real president Ramon Calderon, for example, said that Mourinho's wild accusations of a pro-Barcelona bias within football "has been harmful to us".

The English sports media, long infatuated by the "Special One", has also cooled in their ardour. One commentator likened him to "the loony on the Tube" with whom one seeks to avoid eye contact.

Even his own players are daring to whisper their discontent. Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to criticise Mourinho's tactics after the first-leg defeat, although he later claimed his comments were misrepresented. How exactly one can misrepresent the phrase "I don't like to play this way", he did not explain.

Ferguson, however, is standing by his man-o'-war.

"I speak to him quite a lot," he said on Wednesday, shortly after Mourinho had made a hand gesture which suggested that Barcelona and Uefa had robbed him of his rightful victory. "I spoke to him last week. We have our own experience [of Barcelona] but we'll take the information because Jose is very helpful that way."

On face value, this is one football manager seeking advice from another. It happens all the time.

But the fact that Ferguson volunteered this information at such a turbulent time for Mourinho is key. By endorsing him this week, when many others were deserting him, Ferguson effectively demolished the sole argument which theoretically barred the passing of the Old Trafford mantle from the Grumpy One to the Special One.

Namely, that Mourinho is not pure enough for United; that the Theatre of Dreams needs a hero, not a pantomime villain; that the football family could not risk this one-man wrecking ball besmirching such a hallowed institution.

Really? Well that did not stop United hiring Ferguson, whose volcanic temper and prickly countenance has regularly cast a shadow over the sport - albeit a shadow which is easily outshone by his positive achievements.

And nor will it stop them hiring Mourinho, a proven winner who has long expressed a wish to manage the club. Yes, his brand of football is less exciting than Ferguson's but the United fans will gladly trade diminished entertainment for continued success. More importantly, so will the club's accountants. Ferguson's stamp of approval, right in the eye of the current storm, will only speed this process of acceptance.

The auld fella will turn 70 this year, and his team remain favourites to win a record 19th league title - eclipsing the 18 collected by arch- rivals Liverpool. With a favourable wind and perhaps a few tips from his chum, Mourinho, he might also pick up another European Cup on May 28. Whatever Ferguson says, the end is nigh. Can't you already smell the pipe tobacco, feel the snug kiss of the slippers, hear the rhythmic tick of the gold carriage clock?

Ferguson must go sooner or later, and I anticipate it being on sooner.

And while others desert the good ship Mourinho, which is holed but still seaworthy, the last loyal officer on board will steer her up the Manchester Ship Canal to Old Trafford.