IF Jose Mourinho only looked more like a lager man than a connoisseur of Portuguese reds, the Carling Cup sponsors could have sent him a crate or two of their product in grateful recognition of swelling the size of their cuttings files over the past week.
The publicity generated by his outburst against Alex Ferguson last Wednesday night will increase still further if he is now charged by the Football Association . . . as he should be . . . for adding the word "cheat" to his accusations about Manchester United, their manager and the match referee, Neale Barry. The FA would only say they've asked him for his observations about the remarks made.
It is one of the ironies of the affair that Mourinho, normally so clever at playing the media, should have overstepped the mark this time, having initially underplayed his hand so uncharacteristically that the point of his criticism was almost lost. At the press conference immediately after Wednesday's goalless draw in the first leg of the semi-final, he dropped in a little jibe about United benefiting from Tottenham's goalthat-never-was at Old Trafford ("They shouldn't be allowed to speak about referees") before making a remark that nobody understood "what I saw and felt and heard at half-time".
Only when prompted into elaborating a little later did he spell out his complaint about pressure being applied to the referee, without naming the transgressor. "I suggest the referee didn't walk alone to the dressing room. There was somebody with him and I don't have to say to you [who it was? ]" Point made, nest stirred. According to one source in the tunnel, Ferguson's comment was along the lines of, "Don't forget there are two teams in this match."
It has also been suggested that Mourinho managed a word or two of advice, namely "Be your own man", which he felt Barry was not in the second half. Indeed, the referee said as he left the ground in the special mini-bus that has to be provided for protection of officials these days:
"There were people from both sides talking to us at half-time. As per usual, and as you'd expect, I was completely impartial."
It was a highly serious accusation to suggest otherwise, which is why Mourinho was fortunate to escape disciplinary action for doing so.
Going a step further the next day by adding: "Whistle, whistle, cheat, cheat" . . . presumably in relation to United's players, rather than his own . . . gives the FA a chance to redeem themselves and impose a similar punishment to the A£15,000 fine that Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, received for using the c-word about Ruud van Nistelrooy earlier this season.
Wenger tried to claim that the French equivalent of the word does not carry the same insulting implications as the English. Whatever the Portuguese conveys, Mourinho should not have got away with questioning the integrity of a leading exponent of English refereeing, which he had praised just before Christmas as "better than in Portugal . . . the philosophy of refereeing here is good".
One of its strengths is the ability to withstand pressure from the likes of Alex, who must surely have had tongue in cheek when he said "It's difficult to get a penalty at a place like this."
He even missed a trick in failing to point out that referees this season carry the same sponsors' name on their shirts as do Chelsea. Perhaps that one can be saved for the second leg in 11 days' time, which promises to be another momentous evening. As well, he might have added, as Porto did at Old Trafford in last season's Champions League game or, just as pertinently, in the semi-final against Deportivo La Coruna, when he was happy to draw 00 at home and sneak a victory in the second leg, on an away goal if necessary.
That outcome cannot be discounted, especially given the gauntlet thrown down by Ferguson to his young rival in suggesting that winning all four major trophies in a season is "impossible".
Mourinho will shortly begin to discover just how difficult the overcrowded English fixture list makes such a task, but that sort of challenge is the kind to inspire him further. He has promised to turn up at Old Trafford with a bottle of his country's best red rather than fizzy lager; and he expects to be celebrating more than his birthday after the game.