They were warned. Sir Bobby Charlton saw it. It was he, the former European Cup winner and elder statesman of Old Trafford, who apparently argued against the notion that Jose Mourinho should succeed the great Sir Alex Ferguson. Mourinho, as he saw it, didn’t adhere to the footballing and individual principles set out by Manchester United as a club.
Ultimately, after David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal flopped, Charlton lost his argument, with Mourinho appointed Man Utd boss in the summer of 2016. Now, however, having seen how the past two and a half seasons played out, he must feel a level of vindication.
Mourinho leaves behind a team, and a club, in flames. The post-Ferguson years have been difficult for Manchester United, but never before has the club seemed as dysfunctional, as broken, as it does now. Some of that is down to the Glazers, a lot of it is down to Ed Woodward, but Mourinho exacerbated Man Utd’s issues and brought them to the fore.
In the end, Mourinho was done for by his players. Suggestions of dressing room splits were rife for quite some time, with Mourinho and Paul Pogba’s relationship particularly strained. Regardless of whether or not a full-blown dressing room mutiny forced Man Utd’s hand, Mourinho’s failure to get the best out of his squad was what finished him.
Some will call it ‘player power.’ They’ll argue that Mourinho’s scorched earth approach no longer works in the modern game, with the modern football player a more precious being than was the case even a decade ago. There is a credence to this point, but ‘player power’ in this particular case means something different.
By sacking Mourinho now, it seems that Manchester United are actively protecting their most valuable assets – their players. Recent speculation has linked David De Gea, Anthony Martial and Pogba with moves away from Old Trafford, and so they have made a move to prevent an exodus when the transfer window opens.
Whoever gets the United job will have a lot to work with upon arriving at the club. Sure, there are deficiencies and imbalances in the squad. There are holes at full back, in midfield and up front. But nonetheless, Man Utd’s squad is one of the strongest in the Premier League. Their frontline is better than any other team’s, barring Liverpool and Manchester City’s, in the division.
De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the world. Despite some struggles, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof have shown promise. Alexis Sanchez was, for a time, one of the best players in England. Martial has the ability to reach the top of the game. Marcus Rashford remains a shimmering prospect. Romelu Lukaku is a proven goalscorer at Premier League level. Then there’s Pogba, the World Cup winner who has still to show his true self at United.
Even in the likes of Fred, Jesse Lingard, Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot and Ander Herrera there is quality for the new man, whoever that is, to work with. It might not be enough to put United on City and Liverpool’s level, but it should be enough to take them closer to the top four places between now and the end of the season.
Mourinho, at his best, when he set the zeitgeist across the game, forged strong relationships with his players.
Those relationships formed the bedrock of his managerial premiership. It ensured that players fought for him. Look at how Mourinho got the very best out of players like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry. Listen to the way those figures still talk about the Portuguese.
This is what makes Mourinho’s demise at Manchester United so baffling. Those relationships were never there. In fact, it’s the lack of those relationships that finally forced the club’s hand in sacking him. ‘It wasn’t through ‘player power’ that Mourinho lost his job. It was through a lack of power with his players.