Sir Alex Ferguson: Manchester United making progress under Jose Mourinho

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Sir Alex Ferguson: Manchester United making progress under Jose Mourinho

Manchester United are making progress under Jose Mourinho and are “unlucky” not to be challenging Chelsea, says their former boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson, 75, stepped down in 2013 but retains close ties to Old Trafford and attends most games.

“I think he has done a great job,” said the Scot in an exclusive interview with BBC Sport.

Ferguson also explained why he thinks Wayne Rooney’s United goalscoring record will never be broken.

‘Without those draws, they’d be challenging Chelsea’

Although he won his opening three games in charge, Mourinho’s team collected just six points from their next seven Premier League matches.

They have been sixth after every round of matches since the end of October and stayed in that position after the 1-1 draw at Stoke on 21 January, when Rooney scored an injury-time equaliser to become United’s record goalscorer, with 250.

Nevertheless, Ferguson can see signs of progress under the Portuguese. And though Chelsea are eight points clear at the top of the Premier League – and 14 points ahead of the Old Trafford club – he believes his former side are “unlucky” not to be up there with them.

“You can see he has got to grips with the club,” he said.

“The team is playing really well and he has been very unlucky. He has had six 1-1 draws and in every game he has battered the opposition.

“If they hadn’t had all these draws, they would be there challenging Chelsea. That is the unfortunate part but he is going to have to live with that.”

‘The team is mirroring its manager’

Mourinho has been sent to the stands twice this season, against Burnley and West Ham, as his side struggled to overcome supposedly inferior opposition at Old Trafford.

The former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager seems far more relaxed now though.

United go to Hull on Thursday for the second leg of their EFL Cup semi-final unbeaten in 17 games. That run encompassed nine successive wins, including a 2-0 triumph in the first leg at Old Trafford, their longest-winning sequence since Ferguson called time on his illustrious career.

Ferguson said: “I was a little bit different from Jose in the respect that I wanted to build the football club and wanted young players to be part of that.

“Nonetheless, the first team weren’t doing great and you have to find solutions to correct that. I think Jose is finding solutions now. There was a period earlier in the season when he wasn’t getting the decisions and his emotions boiled over. You see him now – he is calm and in control.

“That is the obvious observation I am making of the team now. The team is mirroring its manager.

“On Saturday at Stoke, they played to the last kick of the ball. They never gave in and got their rewards to take something from the game with that great Rooney goal.

“And did you see what he did? Ran to the halfway line. No celebration. Pointed to the ball as if to say ‘get it, we are going to win this’. That is exactly the spirit Jose has created.”

Goal record ‘a very big target to hit’

Sir Bobby Charlton’s club record of 249 Manchester United goals had stood for 44 years until Rooney went past it at the Britannia Stadium.

Charlton amassed his tally in 758 appearances for the club. Rooney, 31, has gone one better in 546 games since moving from Everton for £27m as an 18-year-old in 2004.

With the chance to score even more this season and a contract that runs to 2018 if the Liverpool-born player remains at Old Trafford until its conclusion, Rooney has set a record that is unlikely ever to be beaten, according to Ferguson.

“In the present-day game, it is difficult to see any club having players who can stay with them for 10 years.

“Jose has mentioned Marcus Rashford and there is an opportunity for that young lad, if he stays at United, and develops his potential the way that Wayne has. But it is a very big target to hit.

“Bobby Charlton’s record was quite substantial. I couldn’t think anybody would beat that. It is an achievement par excellence.”