So, the post-Fergie era consigns another manager’s Old Trafford reign to the history books, and with David Moyes’ six-year contract still having six months to run too!
The timing of Jose Mourinho’s defenestration ultimately managed to be surprising and a long time coming — it was widely believed Ed Woodward, United’s perpetually-bumbling CEO, would only move once qualification for the Champions League was out of reach, as he had done with Moyes and Louis Van Gaal.
Certainly, Sunday’s performance at Anfield was no more abject or humiliating than certain others this season, although fourth place is already looking unattainable.
Mourinho leaves the team 11 points adrift, and only a few weeks after he’d insisted United would be in a Champions League spot by New Year’s Eve.
It was perhaps fitting the end came at Anfield.
Is it really only just over a year ago that United went there, having scored four goals on six occasions in the opening 10 games of the season, and with Lukaku’s goal tally already into double figures? What distant days they seem, when Liverpool were wobbling and their defence badly suspect.
Of course, Mourinho opted against going for the kill, instead playing defensively and having De Gea to thank for keeping it to 0-0. “A point at Anfield is ok” was his verdict.
Meanwhile, Manchester City won 7-2 at Stoke to move clear at the top of the table, opening up a gap that eventually stretched to 19 points as they cantered to the title.
If it looked at the time that momentum was squandered with that Anfield approach, it was all but confirmed the following week with a dreadful defeat at Huddersfield; United under Mourinho never properly regained form.
In truth, that opening run of games in 2017/18 aside, performances had been pretty dreadful the whole calendar year, but winning the League Cup and Europa League trophies kept fans distracted.
The European knockout performances in particular — culminating in the horror show semi against Celta Vigo that the Spaniards almost won in injury time — were so abysmal, the only thing to be said for them was that at least Van Gaal was not still in charge.
With no trophy to hide behind for his 2017/18 endeavours, Mourinho reverted to what he seemingly knows best: moaning and being miserable.
Nothing was ever his fault; he was Jose Mourinho – what did he have to prove to anyone? And, even being Jose Mourinho, how could he be expected to compete with City’s riches? It mattered not a jot that the fortunes he spent (nearly £400m (€445.1m) since 2016) were largely squandered: Henrikh Mkhitaryan was bought and sold within 18 months, barely registering any impact; Eric Bailly never seemed to be fit; Victor Lindelof was a permanent liability; Fred anonymous; Matic increasingly referred to as Static.
After last season’s blistering opening, Lukaku looks to have been replaced by an imposter who’s eaten the real version.
Meanwhile, Paul Pogba’s best displays since arriving from Juventus have come on social media, his performances deteriorating to the point he received a public dressing down from Mourinho against Tottenham in January, after which their relationship never recovered.
There was always the suspicion Mourinho had become a busted flush in the wake of his spell with Real Madrid, but in 2016 with Guardiola and Klopp already taken, he was the obvious candidate for the job. No complaints there.
But whilst he eased the waning Rooney out the door skilfully enough, the failure to quickly do likewise with the hopeless Fellaini sounded alarms, as did the lack of any obvious drilling of a regularly calamitous defence.
Admittedly that was one area in which Mourinho continually tried to recruit, but given the questionable record of his signings, it’s little wonder Ed Woodward overruled several transfer decisions this summer.
However, if there was so little confidence in the manager’s judgment, why had Mourinho been given a contract extension only a few months earlier? And, more to the point, if he wasn’t going to back him then, why didn’t he sack him then?
The season thus far has been little more than an increasingly embarrassing power play between Mourinho, Woodward, and Pogba, and the Portuguese’s exit puts the other pair firmly in the firing line.
Woodward has now overseen the appointment of three failures as manager, whilst Pogba and other unhappy, underperforming players now have no excuse. With an ‘easier’ run of games coming up, and the “toxic” manager removed, all may appear much brighter in the coming few weeks. How long before the new dawn fades probably depends on how much attention Pogba now devotes to marketing and Woodward to football (or vice versa). Few tears would be shed if both were to follow Mourinho out the door.
- John-Paul O’Neill is author of Red Rebels: The Glazers and the FC Revolution