Mourinho facing a CV-defining test

WHEN Jose Mourinho took his Internazionale side to Old Trafford in the Champions League last season he was spotted alone sitting high up in the stand a couple of hours before kick-off.

He was looking around, soaking in the history. Dreaming, perhaps, of when it all would be his. "It is like home," he explained. "I even know the groundsman."

Well, tonight Mourinho can take a step closer to making it all come true when Inter Milan take on Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

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Any job at Old Trafford, of course, depends on Sir Alex Ferguson actually giving up the keys to the most successful kingdom in British football history.

And while stories claim Ferguson will go at the end of next season with his 70th birthday looming, that is by no means certain. Another school of thought suggests Ferguson will never willingly relinquish his post while his health remains and trophies are there to be won.

Yet there is no doubt Old Trafford is Mourinho's preferred destination. No doubt, too, that he is the one man with the presence, the ego and the footballing acumen to handle what would be football's 'impossible job'.

Take tonight in the San Siro, for instance.

Does anyone seriously believe that Barcelona will be allowed to do to Inter Milan what they did to Arsenal over two legs in the quarter-final?

Mourinho will have studied every nuance of Barcelona's play. There is not a chance he will try to match footballing talents with the most beguiling club side on the planet. He will order his players to press and harry Barcelona to deny playmaker Xavi space. He will have a plan for Lionel Messi. A plan somewhat more adept than Arsenal's decision to allow the world's best footballer as much time and space as he desired to plant four goals past them.

In short, Mourinho's team will play with cunning and caution with Maicon and Lucio and Wesley Snejider and Diego Milito all capable of repeating the brilliant performance which defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last month.

It does not mean Inter will go through to next month's final in Madrid because Barcelona in full flow arguably are the finest football team the world has seen. But Inter will not walk naively on to their guns with the flimsiest of protection. Mourinho will make sure of that.

Yet if Mourinho's ability to influence the ebb and flow of a football match is his greatest strength then there is another reason he would be perfect for Old Trafford.

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It will take a big personality to follow Ferguson. Sir Matt Busby cast such influence over the club that when he retired in 1969 the shadow was too much for Wilf McGuiness and Frank O'Farrell.

There is, of course, another scenario for the man who recently voiced his love-hate relationship with Italian football.

That is Manchester City come calling in the summer with a Champions League spot, a blank cheque book and a challenge to take the other club in Manchester to the instant heights he once made possible for Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.

But that would not "feel like home".