Tuesday 17 September 2019

Jim White: 'Good riddance to Mourinho and his anti-United football'

Jose Mourinho. Photo: PA
Jose Mourinho. Photo: PA

Jim White

Beyond the Lowry Hotel's accounts department, there can be few mourning the departure of Jose Mourinho from Manchester United.

The woeful defeat at Liverpool was indicative of a manager at odds with the traditions of his club, a manager at war his board and his players, a manager apparently motivated by little beyond the maximisation of his pay-off.

How things have changed. When he first arrived at Old Trafford, Mourinho promised so much.

Here, we fans thought, after the shambles of the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal eras, was the grown-up taking charge.

In a survey for the fanzine 'United We Stand', some 80pc of respondents welcomed his appointment.

Sure, we all knew he was not exactly addicted to attacking football, nor was he renowned for his promotion of youth players.


But we knew he was organised, smart, brilliant in his one-off game management.

Above all, watching from a distance as he carried all before him at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, we knew that he was a winner.

Indeed, he proved as much in those early days, scooping up two trophies in his first season, suggesting that the golden years of bullion accumulation could be making an imminent return.

There was something else about him, too, which appealed to the hard core of United support: he fitted their self-image of the permanent outsider, distant and aloof.

They loved his sneery dismissal of the press, loved the curled lip and finger to the ear that greeted victory, loved the fact everyone else hated him.

But even they would concede that this season has been one of relentless decline, with the team locked in a perpetual fandango of one step forward, two steps back.

While rival clubs seemed to be presided over by a coherent development philosophy, United's transfer strategy looked scattergun and panicked.

And those that were signed hardly delivered on their inflated fees. Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Eric Bailly and Fred all became shadows of the players they were before.

The performance at Liverpool last Sunday, following on from equally wretched outings to Manchester City, West Ham and Brighton, undermined any confidence that remained in the manager.

This was the very nadir of caution. Anxious and cowed, from the start United looked purposeless and adrift.

For Old Trafford supporters, schooled in the never-say-die fearlessness of the Ferguson era, brought up to believe in the primacy of attack, attack, attack, it was not defeat that hurt, it was the manner of it.

And the truth is, there was no sense of any imminent change in Mourinho's methodology.

He appeared intent on developing a self-destructive spiral of decline, torpedoing the club as much as his own reputation.

There wasn't going to be any attack. There was never going to be any swash or buckle. Now at least we might look forward to some of that.

Even if the board that has presided over three botched appointments remains intact, even if the men who own it are as distracted as ever by the bottom line, now out on the field at least there is a chance we might get our club back.

Mourinho, meanwhile, has much to reflect on if he chooses to explore the real reasons for his failure at United.

A reputation for pushing his players physically is well known and burnout is one theory.

More convincing is a sense of psychological exhaustion with a managerial style that, even in happier times, he once described as "confrontational leadership".

A further great weakness seems to be Mourinho's difficulty in getting over any perceived slight or internal skirmish. Once the unravelling begins, it appears only to gather momentum.


An additional pincer over the past decade is how football itself has changed.

Physical counter-attacking teams are being superseded by those in the image of Pep Guardiola, with their relentless pressing and passing.

The modern player is less unquestioning of authority. They require more nuanced man-management.

Mourinho's own adjustments to all this have been stubbornly insufficient.

Can he respond now? For those who fondly remember a manager touched by authentic genius, the fervent hope will be yes.

But it will require proper self-reflection and, unlike three years ago after he left Chelsea, a new approach that reflects the modern realities of a manager's working environment.


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