Two days after being embarrassed by Premier League leading Liverpool, Manchester United finally, mercifully fired manager Jose Mourinho, the club announced in a statement released on Tuesday morning.
Mourinho “has left the club with immediate effect,” the statement read. “A new caretaker manager will be appointed until the end of the current season while the club conduct a thorough recruitment process for a new full-time manager.”
The move was a long time coming. United finished second behind crosstown rival Manchester City last season and qualified for the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League last month. But the once-mighty Red Devils have been shockingly poor so far in 2018-19, their worst start to a season in 28 years. Following the loss to Liverpool, during which they were dominated from start to finish, United is now 11 points behind fourth-place Arsenal in the Premier League, putting them at serious risk of not qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Along the way, Mourinho has taken deserved heat this season for his constant complaining about the quality of United’s squad and his overly defensive playing style. He’s also clashed with his most expensive player, midfielder Paul Pogba, benching the French World Cup winner for the Red Devils’ last three league matches.
The Portuguese Mourinho, 55, was let go almost three years to the day after being sacked by Chelsea, who he led to three English titles over two separate stints. Mourinho won the Champions League with Porto in 2004 and again in 2010 with Inter Milan.
He’s never stayed long at any one club, however, and even though he long coveted the United job in the wake of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, he often looked downright miserable in the position after being hired in 2016. Despite some early successes, including EFL Cup and Europa League titles during his first season at the helm, he seemed to be almost daring his bosses to let him go toward the end.
The inevitable spit was foreshadowed as early as last summer, during Manchester United’s tour of the United States. Mourinho ripped his players, mostly indirectly, after losses. Where he used to be be playful and engaging with the media, his press conferences this season were often nothing short of combative. When challenged by reporters he made excuses and/or grew defensive, pointing out his earlier triumphs elsewhere. He took every opportunity to remind whosever would listen that United was not the on-field global juggernaut it was during most of Ferguson’s 27-year reign, apparently oblivious to the fact that he was the person charged with returning the club to glory.
The implication that the club refused to meet his transfer demands was absurd. An AS report earlier this year concluded that United has the second-highest payroll in the global game, trailing only Barcelona. His treatment of Pogba was as demeaning as it was head-scratching.
Recently, Mourinho even managed to turn what should’ve been good moments ugly. Last month, after upsetting Juventus in Italy to advance to the last 16 of the Champions League, he taunted the home fans in Turin rather than celebrating one of this few high points of his tenure in Manchester with his own supporters. It was plain for all to see that this was not the behavior of a man enjoying his work. Even those who once backed him, such as club legend Rio Ferdinand, eventually came to the conclusion that the time had come to part ways:
I was one of his biggest advocates 2 & half years ago when he joined @ManUtd & felt he stabilised our club when we needed it… You can’t ignore what Jose has achieved as a manager previously but I feel the time has come for fresh ideas at #MUFC
— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) December 18, 2018
The writing was on the wall and everywhere else. It had been for months. Now Manchester United will turn to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on an interim basis, its fourth manager since Ferguson walked away following the club’s most recent league title. That seems like an eternity ago now.
Another club icon, former defender Gary Neville, voiced his support in favor of naming Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino full-time manager, even before Mourinho was dismissed. He reiterated those comments to Sky Sports on Tuesday.
“I said last season that the next manager of Man United should be Pochettino,” the ex-United captain said.
“For me he feels like the ideal candidate,” Neville added. “My view is they need someone who meets the three key principles of the football club, and that is promotion of youth, entertaining football, and to win.”
What’s next for Mourinho? His resume all but guarantees that he’s getting another job at some point, if he wants one, even though there is a growing sense that the swashbuckling young tactician he was when he led Porto to Europe’s grandest prize, famously upsetting United to get there, is long gone. He’s spoken in the past about his desire to coach in MLS, but the truth is that his reputation is too damaged now for any U.S. or Canadian club to take a chance on him for the many millions it would surely cost.
His track record of failure now stands toe-to-toe alongside his many successes. Mourinho’s stay at Old Trafford was even shorter than his average tenure at any of his previous six managerial stops, and nobody is too surprised. In fact, the biggest question might be this: what took so long?
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