James Lawton's final column: Pogba incident the latest episode of Mourinho betraying United's history
We may just have gone the full range of reaction to Jose Mourinho's graduation as the pantomime villain of Old Trafford.
We may just have gone the full range of reaction to Jose Mourinho's graduation as the pantomime villain of Old Trafford.
A treacherous aspect of genius is that sometimes it goes missing when you need it most. Even worse, you might just happen to mislay it permanently.
Something happened in Wroclaw, Poland, this week which could just go beyond the extremely good news that Irish international football still has a beating heart and a competitive dignity.
Almost anything now achieved by the acquisitive breed of football agents has to be outrageous to cause even the smallest tremor of shock.
In the deepening crisis of Jose Mourinho, as he flails in pursuit of his old trademark credibility, one important factor is in danger of being overlooked.
Croatia must be up for adoption as the team of a fractious, turbulent world as they prepare to meet the classy plutocrats of France in Moscow tomorrow afternoon. Any takers? They certainly have one here.
Could it really be true that England have a passable chance of becoming world champions just two years after slumping glassy-eyed on a French field after being sent home by Iceland - and then firing Sam Allardyce after one match in office?
Maybe Lionel Messi has found a beam of reviving light, perhaps Brazil have rediscovered their destiny as football's most beautiful team but tomorrow night in Sochi the issue is as basic, as unfanciful, as a street fight.
Cristiano Ronaldo long ago removed himself from the laws of football probability, and, yes, it is a good 10 years since his most damning critic had to yield the point that he was so much more than a self-possessed, if superior, show pony.
Spain may well have committed World Cup suicide by firing their winning coach, and author of an impeccable campaign, but there is something glorious, as well as a little mad, in their point of principle.
Champions League final week. Kiev is where the football elite are stationed.
Can it really be true that at 55 Jose Mourinho is still to grasp it is a lot later than he may care to think?
Football's reaction to the disorienting health crisis of Alex Ferguson had millions of personal echoes.
All those pouring scorn on the idea that Steven Gerrard accepts the Rangers job, suggesting that instead of finding a challenge he has lost his marbles, should take a brief look in the mirror.
It is getting on for 50 years since Bill Shankly, the founder of the great tradition, clambered on to his small desk in his poky office beneath the old grandstand, stretched out his arms and declared...
Even though it is so long since the war drums of Leeds United beat out such a bullish message, there is no reason to belittle the surge of old belief, old pride.
After all the transfer manoeuvrings, the posturing and the smart little agent initiatives, finally it comes down to what it always should.
Who in the prime of his football life wouldn't want to be Jurgen Klopp - a man of destiny for whom, finally, all the right pieces may just be coming into place?
Early one morning in Marbella 20-odd years ago, when the most rheumy eyed of the tourists were tottering to their beds, I saw someone of intense purpose about to cross the road with an armful of rubbish. It was Roy Keane and he was glowering.
We don't have to be as obsequious as Donald Trump but that doesn't stop us being fair to Vladimir Putin's World Cup. It was well run, free of the projected hooliganism, not to mention nerve gas, and we had some spectacular backdrops of Mother Russia.
Sometimes there are landmarks of time and history which command passing attention - and then you hop back to the realities of today. There are other occasions when you confront not a slab of old memory but a living and unshakeable state of mind.
If you want to take a more whimsical view of the World Cup which opens in Moscow next Thursday, and then four years later dumps us in the searing and - in my experience at least - utterly unredeemed desert heat of Qatar, it might be likened to a wild, unprincipled woman.
Any tendency to believe that Damien Duff's attack on the style and domineering personality of Roy Keane carries a touch of envy - or at least the regrets of a former star now operating in the shadows - should be resisted, at least for the moment.
Gareth Bale may have provided a promissory note for the 2018 World Cup, one he sadly cannot deliver personally. But then maybe he will understand that for all its force and exquisite timing, for the moment it has the status of a leaf blowing rather forlornly in the Russian wind.
Sometimes there is fever in the air. It can be benign, uplifting and who in the football world could question Jurgen Klopp if, in a moment of immodesty, he claimed authorship of such a phenomenon?
The movie in which Jose Mourinho once announced he was both starring and directing is beginning to resemble one 'Rocky' sequel too far.
One result of Liverpool's astonishing progress in the Champions League is a sharp rise in the risk of hernia. This is now being run by those still willing to pass some final judgement on the style and the meaning of their coach Jurgen Klopp.
We fret over the future of football with almost neurotic compulsion, even to the point where sometimes we worry that it is on borrowed time. But then maybe we agonise too much.
For 28 years Spurs have made winning at Stamford Bridge seem about as feasible as scaling Mont Blanc in beach shoes, but on Sunday they had better take the grappling irons and the ice picks.
It is surely a worry that the World Cup in Russia might be attended by a small legion of refugees from a John Le Carré spy novel. But there is another concern to do entirely with what happens in the playpen of a once-great tournament.
When Big Ron Atkinson mistook a live microphone for a dead one and made a racist remark, his days as the big-time football pundit were over.
One moment in Juventus's passionate defeat of Spurs carried us to the core of the best football can still offer. It glowed with resolve in these days of so much easy, money-drenched self-satisfaction.
No, it is not now a serious argument. Arsene Wenger has stayed on too long and he is paying the heavy price of indignity. His power base at Arsenal is dwindling before our eyes. His face almost by the day becomes more a mirror of anguish and professional despair. But where will it end?
If Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte were matadors rather than football coaches, they might well sell out every bullring in Spain and Latin America. What they offer on Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford is more than a duel of will and style but a test of what they represent as two of the most successful coaches in the modern game.
Sometimes football, like real life, serves up rebukes in a teeming job lot and if anyone doubts this it is surely a good week to check with Jose Mourinho. It has been one that must have made even him feel less the leading man in his own movie - his own unforgettable self-assessment - than just another extra.
Huge questions now bombard the tortured brow of Antonio Conte as the belief grows that he is Chelsea's latest 'Dead Coach Walking'.
Next week 60 years will separate Bobby Charlton from the Munich air tragedy but there isn't a day when he doesn't travel back to the snowy, ruinous field some deep part of him has never truly left.
Some assumed too quickly that the dream of Harry Kane, built with such splendid and relentless application over the last few years, would be bounded by his roots, his Tottenham Hotspur.
Every once in a while, maybe even every quarter of a century, football should apply a value for money test. Had it happened in this week of the Alexis Sanchez trading there would have been a particularly astounding result.
If, amazingly enough, we didn't know it before we certainly knew it this week. Arsene Wenger, aged 68, is separated from Martin O'Neill by rather more than three extra years.
Seamus Coleman suffered a gut-wrenching broken leg. James McCarthy endured the Chinese torture of a hundred tweaks and twinges of the hamstring which made him nothing so much as a bitter source of dissension between his former Everton manager Ronald Koeman and Ireland's Martin O'Neill.
They once made a film entitled 'The Last King of Scotland' around the central character Idi Amin, former dictator of Uganda. The way things are going in Scottish football they may well make another one, this time starring Brendan Rodgers, the all-conquering boss of Celtic.
Not so long ago it would have been a football blasphemy. Or at least a bit like saying the Taj Mahal had become just a little old hat. But then who cannot worry that something is missing from the latest instalment of El Clasico in the Bernabeu at high noon?
A little early for a coronation, perhaps, but who can deny that Pep Guardiola is making massive strides towards regaining the crown he claimed so irresistibly in his Barcelona years?
If it should happen that Pep Guardiola's Manchester City conjure another of their late victories at Old Trafford on Sunday - and virtually put a seal on the Premier League title - the mocking, triumphant cry of their supporters is as predictable as a workaday sneer from Jose Mourinho. It will, no doubt, be 'Fergie Time'.
Sam and Wayne may sound more like a raucous situation comedy than a master plan of football re-construction but the pilot show at Goodison Park on Wednesday didn't go so badly, did it?
Jurgen Klopp insists that the ambush Liverpool suffered in Seville this week had nothing to do with his team's mentality. Perhaps not theirs, but what about his?
Anger, shock and derision … they were predictable companions on the streets of Ireland yesterday after Christian Eriksen and his Danish team-mates didn't so much drive the Boys in Green off the road to Russia 2018 as consign them to a different, inferior planet.
They say the last attribute a great fighter loses is his punch, his capacity to settle everything in one moment of concentrated thought and power.
The word gets stronger that Antonio Conte is a dead coach walking at Chelsea, that his fate was sealed when the team he drove so brilliantly to last season's Premier League fell apart in Rome this week.
What's gone wrong with Jurgen Klopp? Or, to put it another way, is it something that, among all the brilliance and passion, was never right from the start? Does he really grasp how to organise a defence?
Who wouldn't say that Spurs, looking almost lordly in the Bernabeu this last week, have a huge statement to make at Wembley against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon?
Compelling though it is likely to be, with Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho on the touchline and Philippe Coutinho and Romelu Lukaku seeking to break open the action, who can deny some of the old allure will be absent when Manchester United arrive at Anfield tomorrow?
Sometimes in football, as in life, there are moments when you have to stand up and say who you are and precisely what you represent. You have to summon up all the best that you have.
In the Italian autumn, almost as much as the one stirring the leaves along Chelsea's King's Road, every little breeze seems to be murmuring the name of Antonio Conte.
Old glory often dies hard, but in football the bite can rarely have been as painful as that currently being suffered by the followers of Rangers.
Riot police were required at the Emirates Stadium when Arsenal found themselves in second-class European action for the first time in 19 years. Tomorrow at Stamford Bridge, though, the call might just have to go out to the League Against Cruel Sports.
Sooner or later a football team must define itself not with the best of intentions nor the most admirable heart - and still less a gut-deep avowal to do better. They must prove they can play, really play. It also helps if the coach gives them the means.
At least no-one could accuse Martin O'Neill's Ireland of leaving Tbilisi, the 'City of Fire', unaware that they might easily have been carrying rather more than first-degree burns.
Has the real Wayne Rooney finally re-announced himself? Or has a briefly warmed-up version popped out of the microwave? One thing is certain, though, even if it is a little early to anoint Wayne Rooney as the Renaissance Man of English football.
An old image of Roman Abramovich has leapt into focus these last few days of Chelsea disarray. As last season's turbulent hero Diego Costa smoulders in limbo, as the conquering coach Antonio Conte wonders what he might have done to have a more persuasive voice, the picture goes back 13 years to the banks of the Tagus in Lisbon.
If Arsene Wenger really does it, if he finds again the chemistry of commitment and touch which last won him a major trophy 13 years ago, what will we truly make of it?
What happened to the idea that English football is the compelling powerhouse of the world game where sooner or later the great coaches and players must prove themselves?
Everton may be facing obscure raiders from the hills of Slovakia tonight, but we can be sure the charge at Goodison Park will be much stronger than the normal passion of an opening skirmish in the Europa League.
Already the trans-Continental trash talk of Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Conor McGregor has made a lurid bonfire of the crumpled old concept of taste and even a touch of decorum. The Irish flag is casually introduced by Mayweather. McGregor flirts with heavy racial innuendo and all the time Forbes Magazine coyly speculates over a take of more than $500m in Las Vegas on August 26.
You didn't have to lose a loved one on that hellish spring day 28 years ago when Hillsborough football ground became a killing field to have it as an ache, of the bones and the spirit. It was only necessary to be there and carry down all the days that followed the fear there would never be proper atonement.
It is eight years since Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United on his way to becoming a one-man football universe, but it might have been yesterday in one tantalising respect.
If it should happen that the 'Old Lady' of Juventus sings in Cardiff tonight, do not mistake it for an aria celebrating a great new age of Italian football. It will be more a hymn of thanks that one of the most formidable cultures in world football is still in touch with at least some of the best of its past.
Football history can sometimes pose tricky questions, like the difference between the Invincibles of today and the Immortals of the ages. Not in Glasgow, however, as the splendidly consistent Celtic seek to complete an unbeaten domestic season with victory over Aberdeen in today's Scottish Cup final.
David Moyes didn’t hear the Old Trafford ghosts rattling as he was given one of football’s greatest prizes when Alex Ferguson walked away from his last game as Manchester United manager four years ago to this day with an improbable 5-5 draw against West Brom.
David Moyes didn't hear the Old Trafford ghosts rattling as he was given one of football's greatest prizes when Alex Ferguson walked away from his last game as Manchester United manager four years ago to this day with an improbable 5-5 draw against West Brom.
When Liverpool owner John W Henry’s young wife was first charmed by the emotion and the wit of The Kop – and said she was eager to learn its passionate football language – some fans thought the waiting days might just be over.
Football history, like most other kinds, is a living force, and who can now question the relentless impact of Cristiano Ronaldo and his exquisitely gifted rival Lionel Messi?
One of the most appealing aspects of Mauricio Pochettino is that unlike many of his rivals, he is unlikely to mistake a football game for the outbreak of World War III.
There is always a time when a great football team is suddenly more an idea, a fading dream, than a living reality.
Cowardice is a heavy charge to level against any man or group of men. But then you look at Arsenal. You look at the team's spineless descent from serious contention in England and Europe, you wonder if you ever saw such an abject surrender as Monday's 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace or a manager as agonised and defeated as the once-great Arsene Wenger.
If Chelsea win the Premier League title, as logic and merit and competitive character still insist they will, the triumph will gleam as brightly as any in the already extraordinary record of their manager Antonio Conte.
If Everton manager Ronald Koeman was just another desperate football man clinging to his job, his fierce argument with Martin O'Neill and his own player James McCarthy might be less of a jolt to the spirit.
Maybe the rawness of Seamus Coleman's catastrophic injuries is still a huge emotional barrier to any kind of cool and wider analysis of what happened at the Aviva Stadium last Friday night. But then it is also true that in all the anger and the sadness there is one perspective that refuses to go away.
Jose Mourinho may do sneering better than any of his football contemporaries. He may also have a genius for diversionary tactics.
It may not be the first time we have seen a once superb football man stripped bare in the public gaze but not one for so long and in such evident pain as Arsene Wenger.
On the casino-floor of football management the biggest, noisiest crowd is gathering again around the poker table of a familiar figure.
Wayne Rooney's decision to turn down the gold of China and stay at Manchester United no doubt involved a considerable degree of heart-searching.
It may be Arsene Wenger's excruciating public ordeal, a day-by-day disintegration of a superbly built reputation that is becoming so harsh it seems almost ghoulish not to avert your gaze. But it's also a football morality tale which has called into question a lot more than a once brilliant coach's loss of nerve and touch.
There is reason to believe that he has the warmest heart in football, certainly the most spontaneous, but none of this is guaranteed to prevent its burial somewhere beneath Liverpool's Kop in the next few hazardous weeks.
Sometimes you have to own up to an impertinence. You have to say you may have got it wrong. And, in this case, that perhaps football's most celebrated coach might just know what he is doing.
Sometimes a man worthy of the greatest respect behaves in a way which makes even his warmest admirers wince. And provokes the question: why doesn't he walk, why doesn't he see that it has become hopeless? In this case it is because he is Arsene Wenger and his rage to win is something threatening to eat him up.
Pep Guardiola may not yet be a dead coach walking but few great football reputations will have been as imperilled as his when Spurs arrive at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.
No doubt it is tempting to say, as so many are saying, that the latest Premier League spectacular at Old Trafford tomorrow has everything.
When Graham Taylor was appointed manager of England in 1990 he did something that invited immediate mockery, much of which was sustained until he left the job four years later.
The question has been simmering for some time now but this week it did rather more than come to the boil. It flew out of the pan and scalded Antonio Conte and his champions-elect Chelsea so severely the Premier League season surely has a new focus. It concerns the potential of Dele Alli. How good, really, is Tottenham's rocketing asset?
It may be a little early to erect a statue of Jurgen Klopp alongside the one of Bill Shankly which stands behind the Kop and has the inscription: He made the people happy.
For once maybe it is not too soon to ask what we want from a Premier League season - especially one obliged to put something of value in place of the romance and humanity of Claudio Ranieri's triumph last spring.
Thirteen years is a long time to be yesterday's man, even if your team is still capable of playing football from the heavens. And that particular talent is in danger of stretching out into a fatal rebuke on Sunday when Arsene Wenger's Arsenal face Manchester City, fighting to preserve their place in the race for the Premier League title they last won in 2004.
An icy pitch, a dangerous surface and a tricky away game provided the ideal conditions for Manchester United to slip up, but they kept their feet and their composure to secure a place in the knockout stage of the Europa League.
Sometimes a coach of high quality produces more than a convincing victory. He defines his work, he wraps it up altogether in one unanswerable statement that announces: “This is my football, this is who I am.”
Muhammad Ali used to identify the centre of the world as his next boxing ring. Heaven knows, he had a case but then who would complain if Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo made the same claim for the Nou Camp before tomorrow's El Clasico?
If the pictures of Wayne Rooney wasted and lost at the wedding party of strangers who welcomed him with one hand and flicked the camera buttons of their mobile phones with the other seemed for many like something close to the end of his story, he can hardly complain.
There is a good reason why Martin O'Neill seems so calm and unflustered about tomorrow's vital World Cup qualifier in Vienna. However injury-ravaged his squad, he knows he is secure in one most valuable asset.
It's not only Tottenham's place in the Champions League that hangs so perilously as they return to the most intense of domestic competition down the road at Arsenal at high noon on Sunday.
As Jose Mourinho embraced victory over Manchester City in the League Cup - yes, the inconsequential League Cup - like some desperate supplicant, it was once again impossible not to wonder what was going on in the head of Alex Ferguson
Someone had the theory that Lionel Messi's exquisite hat-trick against Manchester City was, more than anything, a rebuke of his old boss and, as some would have it, part-creator, Pep Guardiola.
Wayne Rooney's agony of career adjustment may have been at least one small help to his manager Jose Mourinho.
In the 21 years since Arsenal fired George Graham for accepting bungs, not a lot has changed in English football, except for the discovery of an apparently inexhaustible mint.
There are many ways of charting Jose Mourinho's latest lurch into the dangerous, potentially fatal waters of lost confidence, but one of them is running deeper than any analysis of his misfiring Manchester United.
Pep Guardiola's brilliant predecessor at Manchester City, Malcolm Allison, was once described as "possibly the least tranquillised football man alive." No-one made much of an argument. Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp were not, after all, around at the time.
If boxing's Don King had ever thought of branching out into football he might now be on the eve of promoting Old Trafford as the Madison Square Garden of the world's most popular game. There has, after all, rarely been a heavyweight coaching title fight to match the one that goes down on the touchline at 30 minutes past noon tomorrow.
In all the tumult of his presence, and his extraordinary rage to win, it seems longer but, no, it is just 10 months ago since Jurgen Klopp put down his first inimitable imprint on the slumbering ambition of Liverpool Football Club.
Those who insist that statistics are often the camouflage of damned lies would surely never have had Robbie Keane in mind. His tell an unimpeachable story of extraordinary dedication to the unlikely dream he fostered with a football at his feet on the not notably romantic streets of his native Tallaght.
At times this week it seemed that a terrible truth of the football life had entered the bones of Arsene Wenger.
Amid all the bluster and the extreme examples of ruthlessly displayed wealth, one question refuses to retreat before the swagger of Jose Mourinho and the cult-like reverence for Pep Guardiola.
There may be no easy way to tell a great player, a truly great one, that it is over, that he is no longer close to what he once was, but could this ever be an excuse for the kind of brutality which Jose Mourinho has dealt out to Bastian Schweinsteiger?
This week's tale of the two international managers has featured not so much a demarcation line as a yawning chasm. On the one hand, there is the man who will again live life on the frontier of long-shot possibilities and another giving the sharp impression that his life's destiny has finally been fulfilled.
No, there has never been a football cross-roads so paved with gold but what, really, is the quality of the shiny stuff? Is the talent and competitive rage of Paul Pogba truly 24 carat or, just maybe, something a little less pure in its refinement?
Of all the savageries inflicted on the reputation of England's national team this week not the least was that they followed Italy on to the stage.