There was a moment – classic José Mourinho – when someone in the room asked whether it was true, after all the fluttering of eyelashes and full-on charm offensive, that he had wanted to manage Manchester United before Sir Alex Ferguson decided David Moyes was the better man for the job.

Mourinho has always attempted to deny it. Now he tried to find another way of expressing himself and it came out in the form of song. Blue Day is the title, written by Suggs for the 1997 FA Cup final and still pumped around Stamford Bridge before Chelsea's home games. Mourinho offered only a few words but enough to make his point. "Chelsea! Chelsea!"

He has always been a dab hand at deflecting awkward questions. Someone pointed out that a man of his achievement would have been an ideal fit for the "biggest club in the world" and he smiled at that description. "Chelsea," he said, cutting off the question. Not United? "Chelsea," he repeated.

Mourinho, of course, could hardly be expected to lose face with a sudden confession. He did also admit recently there was a culture of mistruths in football club press conferences ("we lie"). There was a beauty earlier in the summer when he claimed never to have had a single disagreement with Roman Abramovich or Andriy Shevchenko. Just as intriguing was his assertion, repeated again this weekend, that Ferguson had confided in him "many months ago" that he was retiring. Or, to run through that one again, that Ferguson decided to pass the biggest secret of his professional life to the then Real Madrid manager before his family or anyone from Old Trafford.

Let's maybe wait to see what Ferguson makes of that in his latest book. Alex Ferguson, My Autobiography comes out on 24 October. Two weeks before Mourinho on Football is published. Once again, we should probably expect a few claims and counter-claims, lots of positioning and some obligatory points-scoring.

Both men speak of one another so glowingly these days it can feel like a trick of the mind that, in their last year as rival Premier League managers, Ferguson suggested Mourinho "should button his lip" at one stage. Mourinho, Ferguson said, had "no respect for anyone but himself". The response was classic Mourinho: "Alex is an intelligent man but the problem is he thinks other people are stupid. They are not and can only laugh." Ferguson, on one Champions League trip, effectively declared the relationship dead. Mourinho shrugged and smiled some more.

Different rules now, of course. Mourinho's relationship with Moyes is probably best filed as "one to watch". There was a brief spat in 2006 when Mourinho accused Andy Johnson of diving and Everton threatened to report Chelsea's manager to the Football Association. Yet Mourinho backed down on that one and Moyes sent him a letter wishing him good luck when he left Chelsea the following year.

Beyond that, there isn't a great deal more in terms of history – quite possibly because Mourinho never had too much trouble against Everton. In eight games, Chelsea won five and drew three, pretty much in keeping with the rest of Moyes's general performance against the major clubs. The man Ferguson picked to replace him, despite an admirable record at Goodison and some impressive results, in particular against Manchester City, did not win a single game at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Anfield or the Emirates in 44 attempts.

How seriously Mourinho wanted the United job, or whether it actually matters now, is another point, and there are people at Chelsea who consider it irrelevant now he is winning matches again for their club. It does, however, offer some insight into the Mourinho-Moyes dynamic.

Take the story Paddy Crerand tells about United's Champions League tie against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu in February. Crerard, a member of United's 1968 European Cup-winning side and now a pundit on their in-house television station, was greeted with a bear-hug when he arrived at Mourinho's press conference. Mourinho told him he was an MUTV subscriber and watched Crerand's phone-in every Monday night. He also asked if he could go on for an exclusive interview (a promise he subsequently kept). Crerand, by his own admission, was bemused. "We had never met before," the 74-year-old says. "I was surprised he knew all about me."

If Mourinho was aggrieved to be overlooked by Ferguson, he has never admitted it. Equally, it is not the biggest leap of logic to think someone with his ego would be put out, to say the least, when he puts his CV against the man Ferguson and United considered superior. Or that it is any surprise we are starting to see the first barbs aimed at Moyes. If anything, the only surprise is that we have had to wait until the second weekend of the season.

At Mourinho's latest conference he was asked whether, after trying to lure Wayne Rooney to Chelsea, he expected a hostile reception from the Old Trafford crowd. "Why?" he replied, with that shocked expression and exaggerated innocence he does so well. "They are against me? But I didn't say [to Rooney] you will be a second choice for me." A pause. "And they are against me?"

Mourinho was just warming up. "We are trying to get a player that a manager told: 'You will be a second option.' We are not going for [Robin] van Persie! They don't have to be against me. If I say Ramires is a second option for me and he plays when Lampard is tired or injured, if someone comes here to get Ramires, nobody is upset."

Sometimes with Mourinho it is best to ask him directly what he is getting at. Was he actually saying it was Moyes's fault Rooney wanted to leave? "Of course," he replied. The headlines were written.

It was a fairly transparent attempt to undermine Moyes. A distortion of real events, too, when everyone involved in the process knows Rooney's exit strategy pre-dates the arrival of the new manager.

What happened was Moyes made a slightly naive remark during an interview on United's pre-season visit to Bangkok. "Overall, my thought on Wayne is, if for any reasons we had an injury to Robin van Persie, we'll need him," he said. That quote, in isolation, looks pretty damning, whereas the rest of the interview made it clear that Rooney was still a key component of the team. The quote was picked out, the damage was done and the Rooney camp saw their chance. That was the point it was leaked that Rooney was "angry and confused". Behind the scenes, Moyes's irritation is spread several different ways – with Chelsea, the player's agent, Paul Stretford, the headline-writers, maybe even a little with himself.

He hasn't bitten, though. Even when Mourinho has apparently been trying to get inside Rooney's head, Moyes has never complained in the way he did at Everton when Manchester City were trying to sign Joleon Lescott. His strategy appears to be: don't get wound up, don't let it show if something has got under your skin. Moyes is a streetwise, experienced operator but you would fear for him if he started trying to take on Mourinho in the way Ferguson once did. The new United manager simply does not have the presence of his predecessor. Far better to keep schtum, let the compliments flow, and at Old Trafford on Monday the red wine, too. If there is one thing Mourinho hates, it is not getting a reaction.

Mourinho was asked how he saw himself getting on with the man three months his junior. "The difference is the routine of being friends, of being relaxed together, before the match and after the match, being together again and having a laugh," he said, bringing Ferguson back into it. "With David, we don't have that kind of relationship. But we have a good relationship. We can start the kind of relationship I had with Sir Alex."

There were compliments as well. Of course there were. Mourinho often decorates his best verbal swipes with kind words around the edges. He did the same in his first press conference back at Stamford Bridge in June, full of welcoming praise for Moyes, then following it up by questioning how a manager with no Champions League experience or trophy background would do in Europe's premier club competition. "People can't expect him to be a fish in water," the man who has won the European Cup with Porto and Internazionale concluded. In the next sentence Mourinho remembered he had managed "I think, 108 matches" at that level. Moyes, one suspects, is going to need a thick skin.