There are plenty of problems at Manchester United. Maybe José Mourinho being the manager wasn’t the biggest one, but it was the most easily solvable.
Of the trio of obstacles blamed for United’s stagnation over the past few years – the Glazers; Ed Woodward; Mourinho – the first-team head coach is clearly the lowest-ranked and therefore simultaneously the most vulnerable and the most dispensable.
Sacking Mourinho meant a millstone was lifted from the necks of many fans, players and board-members. The mood at the club – and the results – improved at the drop of a megalomaniac Portuguese hat, even if José’s feel-good replacement, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has an underwhelming coaching CV.
Had he remained, the dark clouds would have continued to swirl above Old Trafford. Regardless of his ability as a manager, Mourinho had become an irretrievably toxic figure. Only the Duncan Castles-iest of observers would have the gall to deny that.
In the same way that there’s no guarantee of the team’s long-term fortunes improving without him, there was no guarantee of them improving with him.
To those not laden with vested personal or professional interests in Mourinho, the conclusion seemed painfully obvious: get rid. Take the short-term risk of a slight drop in form and spare the club another season as [Christmas metaphor incoming] the last Hot Wheels Corkscrew Crash Track Set left on the shelf.
Given his sacking in mid-December, 2018 was José’s annus horribilis. Or it would have been if he didn’t already have a whole repertoire of anni horribiles to look back on.
Someone should call the Oxford Dictionary and have them officially define “doing a José” as “repeatedly engineering a cycle of three years in which brief success is followed by catastrophic breakdown and immeasurable collateral damage”.
There were so many spats entered, controversies stoked and tantrums thrown by the Portuguese this year that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
He alienated his club’s best and most expensive player with constant public undermining, such as calling him a ‘virus’. He was undermined in retaliation by the same player.
He had a war of words with a fellow manager. He swore angrily in Portuguese at TV cameras. He threw cages of water-bottles with the wild anger-joy-relief of a teenager who’s just spent ten minutes on Porn Hub.
All of this while overseeing the gradual decline in form of one of the country’s biggest football teams, in the process making them one of the dullest sides in the Premier League. If that’s what United aspire to be these days, then maybe Mourinho was the man for the job.
The fact they’ve given him the old heave-ho ho ho suggests they have higher ambitions. The only mystery is why they waited so long to show it.