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Jose bows to Man Utd power

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Phil McNulty | 00:18 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Jose Mourinho left Old Trafford a loser - but "the Special One" was still pure box office as he threw his weight behind the growing belief that Manchester United can successfully pull off their historic pursuit of five trophies.

It was not just Manchester United's Champions League win against Inter Milan that was a complete lock-out. The same applied to Mourinho's after-match inquest.

Mourinho's charisma is such that the doors were slammed shut on Old Trafford's media theatre as demand for spaces outstripped supply while he held court.

It took a dash through a briefly unlocked door and a dart beneath a cameraman's armpit to catch Mourinho's words. Undignified but undoubtedly worthwhile: especially when it came to hearing his verdict on his old foe Sir Alex Ferguson's attempt to write fresh chapters in United's history.

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Mourinho's Inter had chances to halt United's march towards history in a spell of domination that followed Nemanja Vidic's early goal, but they were betrayed by misplaced generosity in front of goal and Cristiano Ronaldo's second settled matters with an air of inevitability.

United stumbled over their lines after that ideal start. They were uncharacteristically wasteful in possession, with Paul Scholes an unlikely culprit, and Ferguson was brutally honest in his assessment that his side were fortunate still to be ahead at the interval.

Ferguson's face was hardly a mask of joy unconfined as he dissected the night's events. He wore the expression of a man who knew his side had got away with it during that careless opening 45 minutes.

But, in the manner of champions, they overcame their own shortcomings to win in a style that, while not exactly ugly, was hardly picture perfect.

Mourinho saw through United's failings on the night to examine the wider vista. And if you are a United fan, you will enjoy his verdict on the view.

He used the age and experience of United's squad as a measure of their capability to win the quintuple, and believes they are reaching a perfect pitch. He likes the average age of the side, around 26 and 27, and the blend of players on either side of that bracket.

Mourinho has been on a charm offensive aimed in the direction of Old Trafford in recent weeks - regarded by some as an early application for a managerial vacancy that may yet be some years in becoming available - but this was an assessment made via a clinical analysis rather than platitudes.

Ironically, it was delivered after a performance that could hardly be ranked among United's vintage European efforts. It did not have the flow and fluidity of Liverpool's thrashing of Real Madrid, but on nights like this good sides get the job done and United did.

A word of caution though. United may not find their next opponents as incapable as Inter in the matter of taking chances. Ambitions can be wrecked by a single goal at this stage and United came perilously close to conceding one on several occasions before progressing.

The fare was not to the liking of Ferguson, who described it as "one of those long European nights when you don't know whether you're watching a game of football or a game of suicide".

He was grim-faced as he condemned the garnish United attempt to sprinkle on their play early on, but issued a warning that they had overcome a genuinely hazardous hurdle in the shape of Mourinho and Inter and would be all the better for it in the quarter-finals.

Ferguson will demand that as a minimum requirement, because Old Trafford was a nervous place to be at times during a slack first half last night. United were fortunate Inter were as adept as wasting chances as they were at creating them.

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It should also be stressed that once Ronaldo scored, a semblance of normal service was resumed and United ended the game in extreme comfort.

Mourinho, so often accused of being sour in defeat, was dignified and once again proved that he is one of the major figures in world football, even in a losing cause.

I am an unabashed Mourinho admirer and would welcome him back to the Premier League tomorrow. And you suspect that, even among the predictable abuse that rolled down from Old Trafford's stands in his direction, there remains a grudging regard for the man in black from United's supporters.

Will he back one day as United's manager? He did suggest, only half-jokingly, that Sir Alex might go on for another 20 years, but Mourinho has the profile, confidence and success rate to suggest he would be as good a successor as anyone.

He stood alone on the touchline as Inter slumped to defeat, ignoring suggestions from Old Trafford that he should return to his seat. It almost seemed like an act of typical defiance as he refused to take a backward step from his technical area, even when his race was run in the dying minutes.

Mourinho was then happy to acknowledge this was United's night, and that his own plans to regain the Champions League he claimed at Porto in 2004 may be some way off.

The domination exerted on Europe's elite competition by the Premier League - with Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool joining United in the last eight again in what is almost becoming an annual show of strength - is not making his task any easier.

Mourinho knows the score: "This is a process this is not a miracle."

Some would regard United winning five trophies this season as a miracle of sorts. Not Mourinho - he believes this is one more dream Ferguson can make come true.

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