The deed has been done. Manchester United have sacked Jose Mourinho, bringing to an end the two-and-a-half-year reign of the Portuguese at Old Trafford. Now the real overhaul should begin.
If returning Manchester United to the top of the world game was a 12-step program, the dismissal of Mourinho would be step one rather than 11 or 12.
His toxicity on the training ground and downright disregard for the desire of the fans to see attractive, attacking football were always going to bring about his demise sooner or later, and his sacking will leave the club on more even ground going forward.
But Mourinho’s departure alone will not right the wrongs that have occurred at Old Trafford over the last six years, and in executive vice-chair Ed Woodward they have another man who should be held accountable for his actions over recent years.
While his success in the commercial market has taken the club to new heights on the balance sheet, the football side of the business has been a train wreck by Manchester United’s standards under his watch.
Having handed David Moyes a six-year contract in 2013, Woodward is now adding a third managerial pay-off to the debit column before the Scot’s initial deal would even have expired. And that speaks more about his own shortcomings than those of Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and the departure of David Gill as CEO, United have got a lot more wrong than right, making for a volatile atmosphere in all football departments. And much of it has come under Woodward’s remit.
His record in the transfer market has been atrocious, starting with the chaotic summer window in 2013 which saw them chase the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Gareth Bale, Ander Herrera and Leighton Baines only to finish up with Marouane Fellaini, and ending with the 2018 campaign in which he refused to back a manager to whom he had handed a new contract only months earlier.
The refusal to sign a centre-back last summer made Mourinho a lame duck of a manager. Why tie him down until 2020 on a rich new deal, only to then say that business must be done in the vision of the board rather than the boss? They knew what he was like, and they knew it could only end in disaster but sat idly by and let it happen anyway.
Mourinho hardly helped matters. From the moment he walked in the door and said publicly that he wanted four signings that summer, the pressure was on. He would always let it be known what he would ask for, and Woodward would always be held to account as a result.
When Ivan Perisic wasn’t recruited in 2017, the manager was unhappy but went with it. But 12 months on the decision not to pursue the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire to bolster the back line was too much for Mourinho to take.
Woodward told reporters as the summer window was closing that he would have splashed out on Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane but not on those Mourinho had identified. It was pie-in-the-sky thinking. He had paid through the nose for Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez but was unwilling to do so when it came to less fashionable, less marketable names.
Even Florentino Perez has accepted the need to widen the net beyond Galacticos at times in Madrid, yet Woodward has always thought of the pounds and pence that may return to the coffers through shirt sales and mattress sponsorships when considering signings.
In truth, his unsuitability to his current role is no real surprise. He is a finance person, not a football person, and his dealings broadcast that fact loud and clear.
He has been put in place to make money for the club-owning Glazer family and he has certainly succeeded in that. But if United don’t start to address their needs on the pitch then the dividends will decrease as fans start to turn their backs.
They need a Director of Football almost more urgently than they need to appoint a successor to Mourinho. The need to take football-related responsibilities away from Woodward is now 10 times more important than getting the right man in the dug-out. What is the point of bringing in the most perfect manager to lead United forward only to then hamstring him with misguided direction from the boardroom which has already proven to only hamper rather than help the club’s fortunes?
“As it is easy to get caught up in the game-by-game fluctuations of our season, I would like to take this opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture," Woodward told investors in September.
“We’re the biggest sports team in the world as measured by number of fans. We know that position is one that requires continued effort and investment to maintain. Our board, our investors and everyone at the club are aligned with the fans on what we need to do on the pitch, and that is to win trophies.
“That’s one of the reasons why we hired Jose Mourinho and we’ve already won three with him.”
It was as though just throwing in the odd new superstar occasionally and telling Mourinho to get on with the job was the only way he knew to govern from the top.
Woodward may earn the club millions away from football, but he has frittered it away on the playing side. Three managers sacked and paid off to the tune of a combined seven-and-a-half years’ worth of salary. Players like Angel di Maria, Alexis Sanchez and more brought in on a whim in a bid to show their pulling power rather than increase their chances of winning a Premier League title.
How many more disastrous decisions must Woodward make before accepting that he needs to step away from the football and concentrate on the commerce role at which he is so adept?
While hoofing Woodward out of the same door through which Mourinho has just departed might be the idealistic next step for many Manchester United fans, the very least he can do is seek with urgency a Director of Football to begin to sort out his mess.
Then, and only then, should United sit down and consider who will be the next manager. Because the club is doomed to fail for as long as Woodward is still pulling all the strings.