Manchester United turned to Jose Mourinho because he was a proven winner. He ended up proving, once and for all, that he is little more than an executive class short-term fix.
Just as at Real Madrid, Mourinho found that his desire to be bigger than the club could not envelop one of the game’s grandest institutions. Where Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan were subsumed by his cult of personality, United was just too big for him. And after United, he will never be able to rid himself of the idea that his shelf-life does not extend beyond two years; his team has stunk Old Trafford out this season.
There were United fans who fell for him, and a fair few of the local press corps, but the charm of earlier on in his career has long gone. It didn’t help that his team played charmless football, even when winning the EFL Cup and Europa League in his first season. That European trophy came after United had given up on the Premier League, finishing a distant sixth.
And Mourinho acted like the reluctant manager of Manchester United. The Lowry Hotel will miss the thousands of pounds a week it cost the club to house him there. And the gripes and groans about the club were not long in arriving. At first, it was the players he had inherited, then it was fans for not getting behind the team, and later on, it was the club’s board, fronted by Ed Woodward, for not giving him the players he wanted.
And along the way, there were a series of running battles with his players. It would be easier to count up those he has not fallen out with than those who have felt the lash of public criticism. David de Gea is one, Ashley Young is another, as players like Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were given treatment that would engage the human resources department in more normal walks of life.
The sight of Paul Pogba sat on the bench during Liverpool’s 3-1 breeze past a shapeless United on Sunday was a dreadful look for a manager who fell out with several players he had brought to Manchester. That Mourinho did not bring Pogba on to share in the humiliation on Merseyside suggests in retrospect that the manager’s Machiavellian instincts had deserted him. Instead, the sight of a player worth £100m-plus on the bench suggested a manager incapable of getting the best from talented players.
Surrender at Anfield was just the latest act of submission. Too often for a Manchester United manager has Mourinho shrugged at a defeat. The fire of the past has gone out and Mourinho had given up fighting for anybody but himself, with blame levelled in all directions but his dugout. When he talked last summer of how finishing second – 19 points behind – Manchester City was one of the greatest achievements of his career, he was fooling nobody, perhaps least of all himself.
His fall, though, is not completely Mourinho’s fault. If he was, as was proved, unsuitable for the job, then blame must fall at the feet of those who appointed him. Woodward was able to deflect the appointment of David Moyes on to Sir Alex Ferguson, but Louis van Gaal and Mourinho are on the executive vice-chairman. And the latter happened when a significant faction, including Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton, were wary of appointing the Portuguese.
It appeared that the Glazer family and Woodward realised their mistake as early as last summer when Mourinho’s demands for a new set of central defenders was not met.
Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant were the only arrivals, and the first of those, after costing £52m, has been the latest player to have done a disappearing act.
At such a point, throwing more money in Mourinho’s direction was clearly regarded as good money after bad, since whatever might be spent would never be enough. Never one for honing young players when a grizzled, heftily waged veteran could do the job, a series of expensive short-term fixes were his solution to his problems.
That De Gea and Anthony Martial, two of the club’s jewels, have recently had contract extensions triggered rather than proper new deals negotiated, pointed to an organisation struggling to hang on to its assets. Mourinho’s sneers, machinations and moans have done nothing to suggest that United is a happy club to play for.
There are those who will complain that player power has again done for a United manager, that any boss would struggle to overcome the constraints at a club that became dysfunctional as soon as Ferguson stepped down in 2013.
But that should not deflect from the indisputable truth that Mourinho could not prove he should be around for any longer.