Roy Curtis: 'Mourinho resembles nothing but a burnt-out star, a once-great mind emptied of all ideas and vision'
AS mournful, inevitable divorce bells chimed over a grey, frigid, stagnating and out-of-love Old Trafford, the annulment between the planet's most storied football club and a fallen-angel coach begged an even bigger question.
Unthinkable so recently as he marched across the European plains with the glow of a latter day Sun King, it is the one that asks might this be it for Jose Mourinho?
After the wild, feisty, overachieving, colourful grand opera of his career, those La Scala lights an essential vitamin to his outsized ego, could this really be the final curtain call?
If it seems absurd to suggest that at 55, with that bulging back catalogue of charismatic achievement, that he might be time-expired, maybe we need to re-phrase the question.
As they observe the derailed streetcar that is Manchester United lurching and clattering and smashing into every sidewalk lamppost, what elite club in their right mind would consider asking Mourinho, the pilot of all that chaos, to step into their cockpit?
As he is left behind by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, impotent against choreography beyond the speed of thought, the Portuguese resembles nothing so much as a burnt-out star, a once-great mind emptied of all ideas and vision.
A sad, embittered, wildly thrashing, broken yesterday's man.
Mourinho, with that familiar spoilt-child petulance that, these days, prompts no more than a bone-weary yawn among his audience, raged about his squad strength.
Yet he spent £391m in his brief, cheerless, divisive skulk across Manchester. It is a lot of money to finance a civil war, a huge spend on a conflagration of the vanities.
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Manchester United, 13-time Premier League champions under their old Scottish laird, Alex Ferguson, have come to mirror a woozy drunk on their chaotic journey home from a Christmas party, vomiting repeatedly into the gutter.
Mourinho leaves United 19 points behind Liverpool, 11 points adrift of a Champions League place; Huddersfield, Crystal Palace, Brighton and Newcastle are among the teams who have conceded fewer league goals than a team under the stewardship of a coach whose £20m-a-year salary was based largely around a supposedly superior defensive IQ.
At United, he has become the Ordinary One, special only his capacity to trigger confrontation with his own prize assets, from Paul Pogba to Anthony Martial to Marcus Rashford.
As one soul-sapping afternoon after another unspooled, a season ticket to the Stretford End had come to feel like a kind of spiritual punishment, an incarceration in sporting limbo.
Unquestionably, the club lack boardroom direction, while Pogba has frequently seemed more consumed by his own celebrity and choice of hair colouring than anything that might be unfolding on a rectangle of grass.
That Mourinho could not coax the kind of display from Pogba that lit up the Russian summer, that the lights have gone out on Alexis Sanchez, a luminous one-man rebellion against mediocrity at Arsenal, offers a damning verdict on the quality of coaching at Old Trafford.
And leads to the inevitable conclusion that the manager has been at the heart of United's fall. The Caesar who once owned the clouds has looked bankrupt: Of ideas, of the old charisma, of any type of joy or love for the game. He looked miserable, quarrelsome, resigned.
It will be nine years in May since he won his second Champions League; in the seven seasons including the current one, he has won just one league title.
These days he is a market leader only in the infusion of bad blood, in the art of throwing hugely expensive luxury toys from his playpen.
Where is the manager who, to paraphrase a description of the NBA superstar Steph Curry's incredible seizing of the stage, "set Europe on fire, set fire to the fire and then poured jet fuel on it?"
Everything tells us he is no-more and that he stood still while the game evolved and, with each passing day, seemed more and more a forlorn tactical anachronism.
Think back to Anfield last Sunday: Klopp's million-watt smile, his energy and passion, the connection he makes with his audience, the high-tempo, thrilling football his team offered.
Now, compare it with Mourinho and his mutinous crew, animated as mannequins gathering dust in some department store basement, adrift in a sea of mediocrity, a sinking trawler alongside a Merseyside galleon with the wind in its sails.
Yes, the lights have gone out on Broadway, the Manchester grand opera has fallen silent.
And as Mourinho exits Old Trafford, more and more you wonder, who is left to take a punt on a Sun King lost in a suffocating fog entirely of his own making?