Jose Mourinho sacked after 30 months in charge of Manchester United – a sentence one was never expecting, or hoping , for that matter, to say. His arrival, partnered with that of his Manchester City counterpart was set to bring competition, controversy and passion to the Premier League. After all, it was Mourinho-Guardiola, Real Madrid-Barcelona, Manchester United-Manchester City. Instead, the gap between the two clubs just expanded as the months passed until there manifested this treacherous void. Mourinho had failed miserably on this task, Lord Sugar might have said. United currently sit in 6th place, 19 points off first-placed Liverpool after only 19 games. An insipid start after their encouraging 2nd place finish last season. Ridding themselves of the Portugese man may well get the monkey of the board’s back, but deep down they, and the players, will know that he was only one issue in this embarrassing tragicomedy. Mourinho was thrown under the bus.
“You’re not special anymore,” was the waxed lyrical in Mourinho’s final away matches with United. He became moody, he pilloried his own players, he stropped around the touchline, he stormed out of press conferences- he behaved like a hormonal teenager. Not a 3-time Premier League winner (which he pointed out rather explicitly at one particular interview) a 2-time Champions League winner , a 2-time Europa League winner and, crucially, the manager of Manchester United. He fell apart. Not all necessarily at his own will, not because he is obnoxious, not to spite the board or his players. He failed to adapt. He failed to adapt to the paradigm shift in football that is the increasing player power. With wage bills stretching up to £300,000 a week, sponsorship deals from the age of 12 and the millions of followers on social media means that modern day players have some hefty egos. Back at Chelsea in 2004, Mourinho was one harsh man. Interviews were brutally honest, he’d make young players such as John Terry and Joe Cole clean the toilets, lambast them in training. However, the difference was that there was a reaction. The players wanted to prove him wrong, and weren’t big-headed enough to clash with him or believe that they knew better. A tough love relationship in its prime. Yet the approach nowadays must be more gentle, more considered, more encouragement less criticism. Look at Klopp and Guardiola, always hugging their players, defending them in public, building them up. Yes, he won a league title with Chelsea only 3 years ago, but was sacked later that year after bust ups with star players such as Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas. The same happened at Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo. And at United, it was Pogba. The bridges were burnt early on with the Frenchman, and their relationship proved irrevocable.
Being the self-acclaimed “special one” was bound to come to his detriment sooner or later. Like I said in a piece on Mourinho back in August, he is the most scrutinised man in world football. And as the manager of United, the biggest club in the world, every word, gesture, decision was to be examined and debated to extreme depths. To the extent whereby , after turning away and shaking his head when Rashford spurned a clear shot on goal, he was fiercely criticised by certain pundits. Have they even seen Pep Guardiola on the touchline ? When one of his players wastes a great opportunity, he can be seen stamping around the technical area, waving his arms wildly like a little toddler. This is where some responsibility lies with the United players, although we will get on to that soon. The media were a laughing stock – their respect for Jose non-existant. “So negative”, “a disgrace”, “doesn’t care about young players” (a myth which Mourinho then classily debunked by reading out the statistics of game time for Marcus Rashford). It was an utter “manhunt” as the man himself described it.
Admittedly, Mourinho is one stubborn man. Even 6 months ago you knew United were on volatile grounds. A disastrous pre-season followed by Woodward’s failure to tie down a new centre back left the Portuguese man in one stroppy state. He pleaded and pleaded but wasn’t listened to. Mourinho’s whole football methodology revolves around clean sheets, defending in all areas of the pitch and near-perfect organisation. Competent centre half’s are crucial – which Bailly, Lindelof and Jones are not. Their frailties were exposed most starkly in the 3-0 and 3-2 losses to Spurs and Brighton respectively. However, while Pochettino or Guardiola might have changed system or boosted the confidence of the players they have to work with, Jose moaned and groaned and pointed the finger. It was again that failure to adapt ; Mourinho had lost his way. His actions can’t be dressed up or dismissed. However Jose is still a fantastic manager, not a dinosaur, he is not ‘past it’ – United are back in the Champions League and finished second last season. Myriad factors prevented him from taking them further.
Who next for United ? Pochettino, it has to be. The man has worked wonders at Spurs on a low budget and with Woodward hesitant to splash out the cash, he seems a perfect fit. His ethos aline with that of the club: promoting youth development and fast, attacking football. Yes, he hasn’t won a major trophy yet but United have tried managers who have won multiple trophies in multiple leagues, they have tried Champions League winners but it hasn’t worked out. Poch would be a breath of fresh air. The question is whether they can claw him away from the awkward negotiator Daniel Levy and whether the Argentinian would want to leave considering his unfinished project at Spurs and the transition into a new pstadium. But when United come calling, circumstances refract.
“This club has been crawling on it’s hands and knees for the past 6 months,” ranted Gary Neville on Sky Sports, after his beloved United were taught not only a lesson in football but a lesson in how to run a football club. Manchester United, the biggest club in the world in terms of revenue and worldwide following, sit in 7th place. Sir Alex and David Gill’s departures were always going to leave a hefty transition period, but the hierarchy of the club have dealt with the predicament atrociously. Particularly one man, Ed Woodward. The man has done a fine job in marketing and revenue, his revolutionary methods now copied in other clubs across the world. But what he has in marketing, he lacks in recruitment. A sporting director is one of the staples of the modern football club. Arsenal had Ivan Gazidis who recently bargained the likes of Sanchez, Torreira and Guendouzi, Spurs have Daniel Levy (chairman officially but steps in as sporting director)- responsible for the signings of Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier while Liverpool have Michael Edwards- the linchpin in the moulding of arguably the most revered front 3 in Europe. United have Woodward, executive-vice chairman, limited footballing knowledge, notorious for te disastrous recruitment of Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Alexis Sanchez. The club is a befuddled circus, with Ed Woodward their lead clown. Don’t get me wrong this is no extreme anti-Woodward rant and the man doesn’t necessarily need replacing, but the hierarchy needs restructuring. The relationship between the board and manager is paramount, yet it seemed as though Jose had no say.
Sorry, Roy, but most of the players are good enough for Manchester United. And sorry, Gary, but the midfield can pass the ball 5 yards. Paul Pogba is a World Cup winner, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata both Premier League winners, David De Gea is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, Romelu Lukaku is a beast of a striker, Alexis Sanchez- Chile’s talisman, Anthony Martial is one of the greatest young players in the world right now. Some of them haven’t stepped up though. When the going got tough, they didn’t push through. The minimum requirement on a football pitch is to give 100% which many of them can’t say they have done this season. Pogba, Sanchez, Lukaku, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Yes, Jose’s depressing tactics and belittling man-management is not exactly fitting for a team of superstars, but the club, the badge and the fans come before your own comfort. And Pogba’s Instagram post after Mourinho’s sacking summed up his attitude. United crave somebody who can link the midfield and attack, a No.10 ; Juan Mata doesn’t have the legs anymore. Oh, and obviously some half-decent centre-backs.
Whatever happens, it may be 2-3 years until we see United revive anything near to the hellish dominance of the Fergie era.