With a telling wink, a pointed finger and a mischievous grin, he was bussed out of a swarming Manchester Airport on Monday evening wired up to an MP3 player. Ahead of such a luscious night of impending ambition in the Champions League, Jose Mourinho should have listened to Europe's The Final Countdown.
It is not long now until his Inter Milan side try to throw a wrecking ball at Manchester United's galloping pursuit of several ancient prizes. Like the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is not used to barren seasons, the photogenic Mourinho does not do quiet entrances, or exits when one recalls the media interest that encased him after Roman Abramovich ousted him as the manager of Chelsea 18 months or so ago. Mourinho is a VIP who needs no introduction to Manchester, or England.
Of all the venues a football fan would choose to be at in the world tonight, a seat among the 76,000 fans inside Old Trafford is surely the destination of choice. Football has a rich texture. History gives its own seal of approval to such an evening. They will start level after a stodgy 0-0 draw in the first leg at the San Siro a fortnight ago. In modern times, such an outcome suits Inter as much as United.
This match has more connotations than simply the coming together of the champions of England and Italy, or two European Cup winners. It is the Special One against the Scottish One. Mourinho with one European Cup to his name, Ferguson two. Jose with two Premier Leagues, Fergie with just the paltry 10 and counting. "Jose is magnetic in terms of press attention. He can be outrageous and very entertaining," said Ferguson, who already has the scent of silverware in his nostrils after his squad proved sturdy enough to collect the Fifa Club World Cup and the Carling Cup.
They lead the Premier League by seven points, and face Everton in the last four of the FA Cup. A win over Inter will see United into the last eight of the Champions League, a tournament they are defending. These are special times even for a coach as successful as Ferguson, but it would be foolish to discount the Special One. The querulous Portuguese martinet can ravage a possible quintuple. Mourinho has had results against Ferguson in the past, facing the United man 13 times as manager of Porto, Chelsea and Inter. He has lost only once, but will hope this is not an unlucky 14.
Mourinho wrestled two Premier League titles away from Ferguson in 2005 and 2006, but United's fans will remember him, perhaps most sickeningly and admiringly, rampaging down the touchline in his long coat at Old Trafford after Porto potted a late goal to knock United out of the Champions League five years ago. Porto won the trophy that year, an outcome that seems eminently feasible for the winner of tonight's second leg.
It would wrong to say that Mourinho has nothing to lose tonight. Inter lead Serie A by seven points and are close to a fourth straight Scudetto, but media reports suggest their president Massimo Moratti is unhappy with Mourinho's confrontational style. Roberto Mancini left Inter despite gaining them three successive domestic titles. A spokesman for Mourinho yesterday denied that the Inter manager hankers after Ferguson's post. He could yet be a successor to the Scotsman in the longer run.
If United are shorn of the possibility of winning the Champions League tonight, a feeling of desolation will engulf them. Marco Materazzi and Nicolas Burdisso sustained leg injuries in a 2-0 league win at Genoa and will miss out, but Inter can look to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a striker who Mourinho rates as the best in the world. United will test such an assertion to the limit if Rio Ferdinand is deemed fit enough to start alongside Nemanja Vidic at the heart of the home defence.
If Mourinho is right, then Inter could well get it right on the night. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org