Man Utd v Real Madrid: Low-key build-up, but a potential classic

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho was quiet - too quiet.

This was the respectful, serene "Special One" back at the place where he came to the world's attention with a 100m sprint down Old Trafford's touchline that not even a long overcoat could slow down.

In an otherwise low-key news conference, Mourinho offered a moment of gold when, with a subtle variation on his theme before the first leg, he claimed "the world will stop to watch" his latest confrontation with Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United fight Real Madrid for a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

But other than that, Mourinho could almost be accused of mounting a charm offensive as the plaudits were heaped upon Ferguson and United, with a few kept back for his own in-form side and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

We cannot fear Ronaldo - Ferguson

Mourinho's past antics pose the question: "What is he up to?"

The mischievous ones suggested Mourinho was avoiding treading on toes in the knowledge that somewhere down the line he may even be occupying this seat in the "Theatre Of Dreams" on a more permanent, post-Ferguson basis.

Or maybe Mourinho recognised that the sheer magnitude of Tuesday's game means the occasion does not need even any of his colourful embellishments to add to the sense of expectation.

Between Ferguson and Mourinho, as they staged their pre-match media briefings in Old Trafford's Europa Suite, there was respect for each other, for their clubs and for this momentous occasion. If Tuesday could provide the chaos, this was the calm.

It was almost nine years ago to the day that Costinha's last-minute equaliser sent United out of the Champions League and Mourinho's Porto a step closer to claiming the crown.

Mourinho promised Old Trafford it will see a different - statesmanlike may be a step too far - character on Tuesday, as he said: "If I lose, I don't cry. If I win, I don't run 100 metres.

"The happiness or sadness will be the same, whether I am sleeping well or not so well, if I am laughing a lot on the plane or pretending to be asleep."

Events at Old Trafford will put Mourinho's words to the test. The world may not stop but there can be no doubting that this is a meeting where expectations match those of a Champions League final itself, where the winners will feel a door has opened for them - especially if AC Milan can eliminate favourites Barcelona.

The world according to Jose Mourinho

United and Real have their eye in before this game, the former holding a commanding lead in the Premier League, the latter touching down in Manchester after successive victories over Barcelona that provided an extra layer of comfort for their coach's perma-confidence.

Ferguson talked of trusting his players - Rafael will again be given the task of subduing Ronaldo - but there was also an open acceptance that he expects United to concede to Real and negate Danny Welbeck's goal in 1-1 draw in the Bernabeu.

And at the centre of Ferguson's thinking when it comes to curtailing Real will be the talent he took from Lisbon and moulded in Manchester before he left for Madrid in an £80m deal in 2009.

Ferguson has weapons of his own in Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie - described as "a demon" in the Spanish media. He will feel he has more than enough talent to unlock a Real defence that looked vulnerable in Madrid. He insists United will not fear Ronaldo.

He will recall only too well, however, how Ronaldo can shape occasions such as this. There will be high emotion inside Old Trafford and some of it will be reserved for the player who scored 118 goals in 292 appearances in six years at United.

Patrice Evra, more in hope than expectation, suggested before the first leg that Ronaldo's personal feelings for United and his father-figure Ferguson may draw some of his sting. His performance and magnificent headed goal in the Bernabeu proved this was hope misplaced.

Real have other threats such as Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria but all of Old Trafford will be aware that if Ronaldo delivers in a manner they know so well then Manchester United's hopes of winning the tournament for the fourth time will be in serious peril.

Ronaldo can rise above the occasion and make the decisive contribution. The environment and atmosphere will be a perfect fit. This is what United and their supporters will fear once respects have been paid before kick-off.

Perhaps it was this knowledge that allowed Mourinho to present his good side to Old Trafford and the world's media on Monday.

When Manchester United meet Real Madrid there is rich history to draw on and invariably world-class quality. Wherever the world does stop to watch on Tuesday, all evidence suggests it will be worth the trouble.


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