On a wintery mid-December day at Carrington, José Mourinho’s reign as Manchester United manager reached an abrupt end in all too Mourinho-esque manner.
Most call it his renowned third season syndrome; the campaign where the constant stream of little and not so subtle digs catch up with the snarling Portuguese terrier. In his trail, he leaves an underachieving Manchester United side sitting 19-points adrift of league leaders Liverpool and a staggering 11-points behind fourth placed Chelsea. A beleaguered squad that had the kitchen sink and more thrown at them numerous times during his tenure – sometimes deservedly so, other times not so much – lay in wait with hope the next manager brings new methods and fresh ideas. Ed Woodward’s track record as Manchester United chief executive rightly takes another bashing, especially given the new three-year contract only gifted to Mourinho this time last year. On top of all this, José walks away having accumulated just the mere £358.8m on player transfers and a £537k hotel bill as the cake topper.
The remarkable thing is deep down we all knew this matrimony would end in tears. José Mourinho’s track record suggested as much, but the deeper issues rooted in this sporting titan that is Manchester United require further emphasising.
As previously mentioned, this is a club currently too ill-equipped to be truly successful. This is a club still playing catch-up since Sir Alex Ferguson brought his trophy-laden spell to an end in 2013. Having over-relied on his ability to oversee each and every aspect of the club, they soon got found out upon his departure. As rivals all across Europe were pushing the boundaries and finally coming to terms with the structure required of sporting sides in modern day football, Manchester United played the wrong hand on more than one occasion. First with David Moyes, then with Louis van Gaal and lastly with José Mourinho. As a result, Manchester United’s reputation as one of the most respected footballing sides across the globe has since taken a battering. Still with each downfall comes an opportunity to get up and learn from past mistakes. This opportunity has once again offered itself to Manchester United.
The penny finally dropped. Enough was enough with Mourinho’s antics. He had clearly lost the majority of the dressing room, with matters having threatened to turn toxic for the best part of the past year. Despite not being renowned for fluent football, all would agree that watching his Manchester United side had been painstaking on the whole. The negative demeanour adopted on the opening day of pre-season brought matters to a head for many as he downplayed fan expectations. Stubbornly playing central midfielders instead of centre-backs against West Ham United bore sense of an arsonist on the prowl, eagerly searching for the next fuse to light.
This week’s thrilling 4-3 FA Youth Cup victory over Chelsea gave sense of a club with real talent coming through the system. Still, with José Mourinho in charge, what chance would they realistically have of graduating into the first team? Evidence sits in the expected UEFA Champions League dead-rubber at Valencia. With everyone anticipating a Juventus trouncing of Young Boys, Mourinho’s bench included young starlets Mason Greenwood and James Garner, only for him to instead introduce Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford. This would not have gone unnoticed in the Manchester United boardroom.
The hierarchy will also have undoubtedly seen what effect the right structure in terms of having a Director of Football or Sporting Director can have on the playing aspects, just by looking down the road to the Etihad or along the M62 towards Liverpool. And with this, came another reason to abort mission and start anew without José Mourinho. By installing a stop-gap manager until the end of the season, it allows the United board an opportunity to appoint their favoured candidate to the Director of Football or Sporting Director role and, with this, give both him and the new manager a clean slate to write their chapter upon in the 2019/20 season.
One can only imagine and speculate who will be the man in charge next summer. Might Mauricio Pochettino be grasped from Daniel Levy’s claws and be joined by his trusted ally Paul Mitchell as Director of Football? Could Diego Simeone be lured from Atletico Madrid? Might a lauded former player such as Michael Carrick, Nicky Butt or current Wales manager, Ryan Giggs, be trusted with the task in hand? Or might the board take risk on one of the vast choice of raw managerial talent found throughout Europe?
For the time being, however, the next five and a half months offers opportunity. Opportunity for whoever the stop-gap manager may be, opportunity for the players to make their mark before the new guard takes control and opportunity for the fans to get some enjoyment back in their system.