The moment that sealed Jose Mourinho’s fate arrived after 85 minutes at Anfield when he beckoned Juan Mata to be Manchester United’s final substitute and left Paul Pogba on the bench, hood up to protect him from the rain.
In one final defiant gesture, Mourinho was toast. Even a club as wealthy as United can’t afford for their record £89million signing to be tossed away like an unwanted toy. It’s cheaper to sack and pay off Mourinho and that’s what happened on Tuesday morning, less than 48 hours after the debacle at Liverpool.
Mourinho reportedly called Pogba a ‘virus’ for spreading a diseased mentality around the dressing-room at Old Trafford. But in fact it was the 55-year-old manager who made doom and gloom contagious.
Manchester United have waved goodbye to Jose Mourinho after he was sacked on Tuesday
Mourinho’s final act during an United game was to keep Paul Pogba (top left) on the bench as they trailed 3-1 at bitter rivals Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday at Anfield
The Portuguese looked a forlorn figure on the touchline of that match on Merseyside
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Whereas Sir Alex Ferguson embraced the modern player and felt it kept him young, Mourinho never even tried. He criticised or fell out not only with Pogba but Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, Antonio Valencia – and those are just the ones we know about.
He seemed unable to grasp the concept that in 2018 players believe that going on social media and being professional aren’t mutually exclusive. He lashed out at Pogba and tried to turn United fans against the player for posting pictures and videos. It was old school management, but not in a good way particularly as United’s rare successes were often down to the French World Cup winner.
Ed Woodward fiddled for long enough while Old Trafford burned and results declined but the gulf in class between Liverpool and United on Sunday finally gave him the courage to act.
Despite Mourinho’s complaints, he’s had a bigger net spend than Liverpool on both transfer fees and wages during his time at Old Trafford but his team still looked a pale shadow of what Jurgen Klopp has built at Liverpool.
Almost three years to the day after a similar sacking at Chelsea, one wonders whether ‘The Special One’ has the desire to work again, or indeed if he will be given the opportunity.
Pogba’s spats with Mourinho have been well-documented publicly for months
Luke Shaw is another player Mourinho hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye with while at United
The last couple of years have seen a new generation of manager lead the way in England with Pep Guardiola, Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino the figureheads. Mourinho’s past record is rightfully admired but his last Champions League success was way back in 2010, despite having had several cracks at it with Real Madrid, Chelsea and United.
So it’s possible the Premier League will not see him again because the Big Six are unlikely to touch him, and he is unlikely to touch the clubs below. Next opportunities are more probable to come on the Continent, or in international football, or in newer lucrative markets like China or the Middle East.
It’s important to recognise Mourinho is not solely responsible for the mess at Manchester United. The club followed Sir Alex Ferguson by appointing three essentially defence-minded managers in a row; David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho, though van Gaal’s philosophy was from a possession-based standpoint.
But having appointed these kind of coaches, the board then asked them to maximise the talents of young, glamorous, attack-minded players that United crave to make headlines and sell shirts.
From Luke Shaw at left back to Martial and Pogba in midfield, United went for ‘Wow’ signings but under austere leaders, of which Mourinho was the most austere. The combination was disastrous, it was like handing a world-class architect a paint brush and canvas and demanding they come up with a masterpiece.
Mourinho looks out of date in comparison to Jurgen Klopp (left) and Pep Guardiola
Mourinho no longer had the patience or people skills to adapt. Instead of working with Eric Bailly, he’d sulk and wonder why he hadn’t got a ready-made John Terry in the dressing-room.
He praised Liverpool’s Andy Robertson at the weekend without having the self-awareness to realise that while he frequently slaughtered Shaw, Klopp never publicly buried Robertson when he struggled in his first six months at Anfield. Perhaps that’s why the Scot has comprehensively overtaken Shaw as the best young left back in Britain.
Klopp tries to encourage and educate, where Mourinho now seems a one-trick pony; tough love, tough love, tough love. Guardiola has shown beyond doubt that it is possible to still motivate young millionaire footballers – but it has to be done through respect rather than fear.
His media manipulation, once an asset, also became wearisome and obsessive over time.
Certainly, United’s transfer policy over the last five years has been diabolical. But they did back Mourinho by investing heavily on the powerful, six-footers he liked; Pogba at a world-record £89million, Romelu Lukaku at £75m, Nemanja Matic at £42m, centre halves Bailly and Victor Lindelof at a combined £60m-plus.
Romelu Lukaku (left) was signed by Mourinho – but has been a disappointment this term so far
It’s impossible to think Mourinho wasn’t consulted about those signings. At the very least he authorised them, and in many cases he led the chase. But his philosophy was out-of-date. Having intimidating players in the tunnel looks old hat when David Silva, Mo Salah and Christian Eriksen are playing the ball around you.
Mourinho bemoaned Liverpool’s fitness and mobility after Sunday’s game. But he chose to build his midfield around Matic. It was his choice and he chose wrong.
Under pressure, the less likeable elements of Mourinho have come through in recent times. He lashed out looking for scapegoats. He was clearly fuming at the lack of defensive signings last summer but there is no evidence he suggested signing Harry Maguire before the World Cup instead of waiting until after Russia when the price had risen to £75million.
Even Louis van Gaal, his predecessor at United and a man who championed his coaching career at Barcelona, was belittled.
Yet Van Gaal won nine of out his last 12 games at United, introduced Marcus Rashford and won the FA Cup at Wembley. It’s certainly a record that stands comparison with this season’s Mourinho with United 19 points off the leaders.
Mourinho succeeded Louis van Gaal – but the Dutchman won nine of his last 12 United
The sight of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill watching on at Anfield didn’t help Mourinho either – it was an instant reminder of the standards expected at Manchester United.
It’s hard to see whether a leopard can change its spots. One hopes Mourinho can come out and break a habit of a lifetime by admitting his own mistakes at Old Trafford. He’d be surprised at the goodwill towards him if he does because he is one of the greats, and he can still charm and give insight when relaxed.
Ed Woodward, Paul Pogba, the other players and directors, all have played a part in the sad decline of Manchester United. But Mourinho has made as many mistakes as anyone. It’s right he’s carried the can.
Ed Woodward (left) finally bit the bullet on Mourinho but now must get the right successor
THE SACKING SEASON: JOSE MOURINHO JOINS LIST OF MANAGERS WHO HAVE BEEN FIRED LEADING UP TO CHRISTMAS
With a transfer window looming and a busy fixture list exposing weaknesses, the period leading up to Christmas is dangerous for under-achieving managers. Jose Mourinho learned it at Chelsea three years ago – and has just suffered the same fate at Manchester United. But he’s not the only one, the 12 days before Christmas have seen 12 managerial changes since 2013 in the Premier League and Championship.
LIST OF MANAGERIAL CASUALTIES IN THE 12 DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS
(From Premier League and Championship since 2013)
Sacked by Manchester United, December 18
United were reluctant to dismiss Mourinho because of the huge pay-off but results and morale grew so bad they were left with little choice. The sight of Paul Pogba on the bench at Liverpool on Sunday was the final straw.
Sacked by Swansea City, December 20
Carlo Ancelotti’s right-hand man at Chelsea and Real Madrid was fired with Swansea bottom of the Premier League having won just three games all season. Clement has since joined and left Reading.
Sacked by Middlesbrough, December 23
Unusually, Monk was let go after winning a Championship match against Sheffield Wednesday. He’s in good company though, Boro did the same once to Gareth Southgate (wonder what happened to him?).
Sacked by Sheffield Wednesday, December 24
Cruelly, the Portuguese manager was relieved of his duties on Christmas Eve having lost at Middlesbrough in the game that also saw Monk sacked. Carvalhal resurfaced at Swansea but couldn’t save them from relegation.
Sacked by Birmingham City, December 14
Blues fans were outraged when Rowett was sacked by new owners with the club a healthy seventh in The Championship. Rowett’s successor Gianfranco Zola proved a disaster and nearly took the club down.
Sacked by Crystal Palace, December 22
Six months after leading Palace to the FA Cup Final, Pardew was given his marching orders with The Eagles having won once in 11 matches and a point above the relegation zone. Pardew later went to West Brom
Sacked by Chelsea, December 17
Mourinho’s season started by arguing with club doctor Eva Carneiro and got steadily worse until Roman Abramovich acted against the most successful manager in Chelsea’s history. They won the league the next season under Antonio Conte.
Sacked by Reading, December 15
Adkins spent 20 months with Reading but a 6-1 defeat at Birmingham City proved costly with the club 16th in The Championship following relegation from the Premier League. Adkins is now rebuilding his career with Hull.
Resigned at Brighton, December 22
The Liverpool legend jumped before he was pushed after a run of one victory in 18 games, his resignation quickly accepted. Chris Hughton took over and ultimately got Brighton into to the Premier League
Resigned at Watford, December 16
Zola was the chosen choice of the Pozzo family when they bought Watford in 2012 and he led them to the Championship play-offs in his first season. Second time around it didn’t go so well and Zola fell on his sword after five straight home defeats.
Sacked by West Brom, December 14
Four defeats in a row cost the Scot his job at The Hawthorns with a 1-0 loss at Cardiff leaving Albion two points off relegation. Clarke has since bounced back with Kilmarnock who are battling Celtic and Rangers in Scotland.
Sacked by Spurs, December 16
Mourinho’s former protege was also axed after a defeat against Liverpool – in his case a 5-0 thumping. Tottenham signed a number of players to replace Gareth Bale but AVB was unsuccessful with them.