By Greg Stobart
Jose Mourinho will deny it until he is blue in the face, but the Chelsea manager will on Sunday face the man who got the job he wanted more than any other 12 months ago. Manchester United was always the Special One's first choice.
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Indeed, as part of the charm offensive, Mourinho met for afternoon tea with Ferguson at the Lowry hotel in Manchester before Real Madrid’s Champions League game against Manchester City last season. He was then falling over himself to praise United before, during and after Real’s last 16 tie against Ferguson’s side, perhaps believing his past success - league titles in every country he managed, two Champions League trophies - made him an automatic favourite to succeed Ferguson.
But the only man Ferguson had ever given major consideration to, other than Moyes, was Pep Guardiola. They met during the 2012 US Open tennis tournament in New York - where Guardiola was taking a sabbatical - but the former Barcelona manager told the Scot that he was already in advanced talks to take over at Bayern Munich at the end of the season.
After all, only one figure was going to have the final say on who was best positioned to take United forward following Sir Alex's retirement: the man himself.
Sadly for Mourinho, the Scot was never going to be swayed by the pair’s close relationship nor the Portuguese's achievements at other clubs. He was seen as too short-sighted, a successful manager in the here and now but someone who largely ignores youth development and long-term goals. Ferguson, quite simply, was uneasy with the idea of handing the reins to a man who has never stayed at a club for more than three years. With Guardiola out, Moyes was his man.
Sir Alex had for 26 years enjoyed unprecedented, unquestioned power at the club and on top of his own reservations about Mourinho, the Glazer family and their advisors were determined that no one man could ever exert total control like Ferguson had going forward.
Last summer the Glazers, the board and even Ferguson himself all accepted that there was a huge change in the offing at Old Trafford. The landscape at United was changing completely; the squad needed overhauling, the backroon staff were being replaced and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward was assuming the responsibilities of the outgoing David Gill.
Moyes became the ideal solution. Ferguson felt he was a candidate who could continue and build upon the strong foundations already in place at the club during a period of great change, not rip everything up and focus on building a winning side at the expense of player development like Mourinho.
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There were also concerns among influential senior figures at Old Trafford that the Portuguese did not conduct himself in a manner befitting of a United manager, particularly in his public spats with opponents, brought to a head in August 2011 when he poked Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye.
"A United manager wouldn't do that," said United legend and club director Sir Bobby Charlton pointedly in December 2012.
Sources at United have also poured scorn on Mourinho’s suggestion that he was aware of Ferguson’s retirement months before the announcement on May 8. In reality, he was as stunned as everyone else. By the time Ferguson went public with his decision, the 50-year-old had already agreed to return to Chelsea on a £10m-a-year package.
Had he known a vacancy at Old Trafford was coming, sources suggest the Portuguese would almost certainly have delayed his decision to return to Stamford Bridge.
Not that it would have made a difference. Moyes was already the chosen one for United. Mourinho never got a look in.