When Jose Mourinho took over as manager at Manchester United in May 2016, it appeared to herald a new era for the club which had struggled to successfully manage the transition after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 years in charge. David Moyes was sacked after barely one season, and although the FA Cup was won under Louis Van Gaal, the club was sliding out of the top four and the football was hard to watch.
With the appointment of Mourinho, there was a sense that United were turning in a different direction, and in appointing the pragmatic Portuguese, club had chosen somebody who knew how to win trophies.
However, whilst at first glance the craggy Scot, Ferguson, the son of a Govan docker, and the urbane Portuguese, who is fluent in five languages might seem worlds apart, at heart they are very much cut from the same cloth and share many of the same personality traits and characteristics.
Arguably, United had the Master (Fergie) in charge for all those years; now the Apprentice (Jose) has succeeded him.
The history of the Ferguson – Mourinho rivalry
The pair first met in the Champions League in 2004 when Mourinho was still in charge at Porto. A bad-tempered match saw Roy Keane see red for a stamp and after the Portuguese won the match 2 – 1 Ferguson questioned the integrity of the home team’s players. That budding enmity was fuelled by the return match when United, leading through Paul Scholes header, were set to progress to the next round, when a last minute strike saw Porto win on aggregate and Mourinho celebrated with a touchline slide down the Old Trafford touchline.
By the time that the pair met again, Mourinho had been installed as manager of Chelsea which uttered in a three year intense rivalry which saw the teams meet in 4 competitions – the Premier League, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Charity Shield.
Mourinho had the edge in these encounters, winning the majority, although there were a number of draws, and, by the time the Portuguese left Stamford Bridge Ferguson had come to appreciate him saying
“He was terrific for football and terrific for Chelsea. I enjoyed the competition with him. He was something fresh and new to our game. “
Their on-pitch rivalry had a reprise though in February 2009 when United gained revenge over Mourinho, now managing Inter Milan, with victory over two legs in the Champions League last 16 stage, which saw the Portuguese embrace the Scot at the final whistle.
However, Mourinho can look back with satisfaction at his record against Ferguson of having only lost 3 times in 14 matches against him – and one of those was a pre-season game.
Ferguson vs Mourinho : Head-to-Head
|FA Cup||League Cup||Charity|
Ferguson versus Mourinho: Most Trophies Won
Ferguson easily outstrips Mourinho in terms of trophies won, in part because of the sheer longevity of his career. Fans of Mourinho would point out that he has the more cosmopolitan CV, having won league titles in four different countries. They might also argue that 9 of Ferguson’s 34 trophies were won in Scotland, which is a weaker league. This would be true but for the important distinction that Ferguson won his trophies there when he was manager of Aberdeen, not one of the traditional football power houses that have historically dominated Scottish football, Celtic or Rangers.
|League Titles||16||England 13|
|Champions League||2||England 2||2||Portugal 1|
|UEFA Cup Winners Cup||2||England 1|
|UEFA League/UEFA Cup||2||Portugal 1|
|Domestic Cups||14||England 9|
Style of Play and Football Philosophy
In January 2017, in an way match at Hull, Manchester United fans sung the following song:
Woke up this morning feeling fine
Got Man United on my mind
Jose’s got us playing the way United should, oh yeah
Something tells me I’m into something good.
After the match Mourinho appeared delighted with the song and the way it showed that the supporters were happy with the “way I am leading them”. He also has repeatedly spoken about the importance of creating “a Manchester United DNA” and playing attack-minded football.
Unfortunately, attack-minded is not how most people would characterise United under Mourinho. And, there are many who reminisce with fondness about the team under Ferguson, arguing that he continued the great traditions of United dating back to the Busby Babes, and the era of Best, Charlton and Law, playing with great width, two wingers and starting games at a high tempo.
That is, however, to ignore the fact that Ferguson evolved his tactics over his career, and became more cautious, especially in Europe. Over time under the Scot, United became known more for their ability to win in a controlled and pragmatic style than they did with entertaining football.
In fact, the team that won the last Premier League under Ferguson in 2012 – 2013 was almost a blueprint for a Mourinho team, with a strong defence, two holding midfielders, and a top goal scorer in the shape of Robin van Persie.
Ferguson 2000 versus Mourinho – worlds apart.
Ferguson 2011 versus Mourinho – not so different.
Sir Alex Ferguson ruled by fear during his time at Manchester United, and his famous “hairdryer” team talks became the stuff of legends. Speaking after his retirement in 2014, he admitted
“I was paid to keep winning that was my job, so I was ruthless. I’m not going to deny that. “.
That ruthlessness did not only extend to players and club officials but to other clubs and managers as well.
In the heyday of his club’s rivalry with Arsenal, his hatred of Arsene Wenger appeared visceral calling him a disgrace after the Pizza gate incident in 2005, and heaping insults on the Frenchman over the years. He also had ongoing feuds with a number of other managers, most notably Rafa Benitez and Kevin Keegan
His provocation extended to other clubs as well, calling local rivals City, a “small club with a small mentality “and branding them “noisy neighbours. As for their other great Northern rivals Liverpool, he said my greatest challenge was “knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch”.
At his peak, Ferguson was the only man who could compete with Mourinho for the epithet “most hated man in football” and, for fans of other clubs they shared much in common: an abrasive style, the use of provocative comments, and the ability to use any means necessary to win, including attacks on other managers, players and match officials. What distinguishes them, however, is that whilst Ferguson went close many times, he never crossed the line in the way that Mourinho has done on several occasions, such as his attack on Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova when managing Real Madrid, or his treatment of Chelsea team doctor, Eva Carneiro.
Relationships with Players
Both men have players who loved playing under them, and others who hated it. Paul Scholes is a player who Ferguson absolutely loved, calling him the “stand-out player” of his generation. Scholes was only one of 4 players he described as being “World Class” that he had managed; the other three being Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He was not so generous to some of his other players though. David Beckham was portrayed as a celebrity-obsessed hair fetishist; Owen Hargreaves, a lightweight whinger of a hypochondriac; and, perhaps most controversially, Roy Keane, described as a button-eyed Irish sociopath (A few quotes on Ferguson).
Equally some players have loathed playing under Mourinho – Sergio Ramos, Eden Hazard and, to bring things up to date, Luke Shaw, whose treatment, under the Portuguese, has almost reached the level of bullying.
On the other hand many of his former Chelsea players, like John Terry. Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, are ready to sing his praises to the hilt.
And then there is Cristiano Ronaldo who played under both and who Ferguson described as the greatest player he ever coached, and who fell out with Mourinho spectacularly when they were both at Real Madrid ( a few quotes on Mourinho).
Ferguson and Mourinho are Marmite managers – you either love them or hate them.
The Master and Apprentice have both ended up in the same place having followed completely different paths to get there.
After one of their early meetings he said:
“He was certainly full of it, calling me boss and big man when we had our post-match drink after the first leg. But it would help if his greetings were accompanied by a decent glass of wine. What he gave me was paint-stripper.
But Six Alex Ferguson, a well-known connoisseur of fine wine, will be hoping that his great friend Mourinho, like his wine, get better with age.
Andy is an exiled English football fan living in Cyprus. He loves all sports but football is his abiding passion, and he still has dreams every now and then about scoring the winning goal in a Wembley Cup Final, even though his playing days are long gone. He follows most major leagues, across Europe at least, and has a favoured team in each. When he’s not watching, listening, reading or downloading podcasts about football, he spend his time worrying about his beloved Arsenal.