Manchester United finally ran out of patience with Jose Mourinho and it’s not a moment too soon . The excuses, the friction, the dire football and most importantly the results all became too much to bear.
It’s clear now that whatever it was which made Mourinho such a compelling success has dimmed. He could be missing his long-time No. 2 Rui Faria or struggling to adapt to a new generation of player who don’t react to his surly management style.
Whatever the problem, United have played as a reflection of their manager. A dull husk, with glory in the rearview mirror and no plan beyond immediate survival. He became almost a parody of himself towards the end of his reign. His selections bordered on the incomprehensible and his lineups often featured seven defensive players.
At Liverpool on Sunday he set the United team up to duck and cover with two right backs in his back five and little in the way of a plan for getting a goal.
The top six has become the top five with United, pathetically trapped in the purgatory of a pointless sixth place. For that Mourinho must shoulder the blame.
Yes, there are difficulties for managers working at a club as big as Manchester United. Expectations are beyond anything at any other English club. These fans have been fed success for nearly 30 years. Sir Alex Ferguson kept it going on his own for so long but there was nothing left behind to sustain it.
As such David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and now Mourinho have all walked in and been unable to improve things or satisfy the demands for a top level, attack-minded team. There were high spots along the way – an EFL Cup and a Europa League – but this is Manchester United. Those were trophies that Ferguson wasn’t interested in and yet they became the only thing Mourinho could cling to.
He harked back at different times to his successes at Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid. He tried his best to remind people that no one was better than him. He left press conferences in bizarre fashion, reminding people that he used to be successful. And now his sacking, coming barely a week after his agent Jorge Mendes took it upon himself to tell the public that Mourinho would be going nowhere in an unprecedented statement.
He launched futile wars with the media – Paul Scholes in particular – and accused pundits of being jealous of his and Paul Pogba’s money.
Pogba was a useful ally at times like that, when it’s all about Mourinho protecting what’s his. But he cut the France World Cup winner adrift and is reported to have called him a virus in front of his team-mates. The club paid €100 million for his services but have seen little of that back in terms of Pogba’s value on the field.
It is difficult to imagine another manager in the league having such trouble in slotting Pogba into the team. But it’s not always about football with Mourinho. It’s about attitude and in his remarks to the press he clearly pointed out that Pogba – in his opinion – had the wrong one.
He insultingly deployed Scott McTominay in his place as some kind of anti-Pogba. He may not be able to play football like Pogba but he’ll damn well do what he’s told. That’s what it became.
The negativity spread. His captain Antonio Valencia was excommunicated too. United have been forced to take up the one-year options in the contracts of David de Gea and Anthony Martial because up until Mourinho left there were no signs that they would sign up to continue playing under him for any longer.
He sought not to protect his players as he did so many times in the past but to blame them. He was particularly harsh on Luke Shaw and Martial and to his credit jolted from two young men some kind of a reaction.
He also had words about the maturity levels of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. But picking fights so publicly and doing down his players must have had an effect. If you keep putting the message out there that people are worthless then eventually they are going to feel worthless.
His only solution to his inability to coax better play from his squad was to ask for more. No matter the money he frittered on Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in his first summer, and Victor Lindelof in his second. No matter the money he spent to get Alexis Sanchez and Fred out of the hands of Pep Guardiola.
He was resisted in his attempts to get a centre back on board last summer and it led to ructions behind the scenes. And January would have been another flashpoint. How could United trust Mourinho to get something right at the point of crisis when he has got things so badly wrong all along?
All the while there was no attempt to improve the players already on the books. Either they could do it or they couldn’t. While Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri came up with coherent, structured, rehearsed attacking solutions, Mourinho had nothing. He wanted his players to improvise, to win games for him.
That is yesterday’s gameplan. Mourinho has not kept pace with tactical trends. He embarrassingly admitted after a Manchester derby hammering that he wished he had a fit Marouane Fellaini to come on and replace a tiring Marouane Fellaini.
United are 11 points away from the top four. They are 19 points off the summit. They have never had as bad a season in Premier League history. Something had to give.
And while there are issues to sort at United off the field – such as Ed Woodward and his sanctioning of terrible signings, the mooted appointment of a sporting director, an ownership wrangle involving the Saudis and current detested owners the Glazers – Mourinho’s position was untenable.
Many things were outwith his control, but he didn’t do a good job with the things that were in his control. His team stank, his attitude stank and the negativity that he alone spread had this squad plummeting in confidence and output.
And through it all he sought to absolve himself. It was the players’ fault, it was the media’s fault, it was Woodward’s fault. Never did he examine – in public at least – what he might have done differently. There was always a finger pointing elsewhere.
Well now Woodward and the Glazers are sitting around the table like Lord Sugar and the finger is pointing at Jose.