The inside story of Jose Mourinho's Manchester United sacking and why it was inevitable from the very start
It was the pathetic display against Liverpool that ultimately persuaded Manchester United to get rid of Jose Mourinho, with the club hierarchy first concretely discussing the decision on Sunday evening, but the main surprise is that they were so proactive.
That 3-1 defeat was only a repetition of so much that had been seen over the attritional and tedious two and a half years the Portuguese was in the job, but more pronounced, and a distillation of all the problems - most of all how they played such small-team football against a lesser-resourced club that had streaked so far ahead.
United had been left behind, but the feeling even as late as Monday evening was they would not take the step required; that the situation would persist until Champions League qualification was mathematically impossible.
Some however began to note how he conspicuously didn’t appear at a Youth Cup game against Chelsea that evening, when so many senior club figures were there.
He is now not seen anywhere at United. The club had enough. Many were fed up of so many negatives, and he had few supporters.
The reality, however, is that those negatives were the inevitable outcome when they appointed Mourinho.
No one can say they weren’t warned. Mourinho’s reign has been a massive waste of everyone’s time, but a moment’s thought could have seen it avoided.
That it comes almost three years to the day he was sacked from Chelsea only emphasises that.
United were effectively panicked into the decision after Manchester City confirmed the truly progressive choice of Pep Guardiola in early 2016, but thereby displayed a wilful blindness to just how bad Mourinho’s reign at Stamford Bridge had been.
Every problem that became apparent in that atrocious 2015-16 season at Chelsea, and indeed his previous spell at Real Madrid between 2010 and 2013, has played out with such predictability at Old Trafford. There has been the same out-of-date football, the same stubbornness, the same destructive arguments with club officials over transfers, and the same “toxic relationship” with players. He is a one-time great now past it at the top level.
By the end, sources say over 90% of the squad wanted Mourinho gone, with that having a direct influence on team decisions as the former manager increasingly picked the few players he trusted.
Even previous loyalists and direct Mourinho choices like Romelu Lukaku were said to have given up on him.
Others were just put out about how the Portuguese had returned to a habit of suddenly “hammering players” out of nowhere.
One player stated that the situation was “the worst he had ever seen in 20 years of football”.
Those who spoke of “palpable discord” at Chelsea in 2015 might well quibble with that, as would many players at the Bernabeu.
Many United players were said to be stunned when Mourinho decided to loudly lay into them in the hotel before the 2-2 draw away to struggling Southampton at the start of December, where the manager described them as “spoiled brats”. That continued after another poor performance at St Mary's, with the Portuguese singling out Paul Pogba, who became a lightning rod for the issues within the team.
The French midfielder’s situation was admittedly the sole issue where some had sympathy with Mourinho, with the manager having at one point exasperatedly texted Woodward that he had “tried everything” with Pogba and nothing worked, but it was still seen as ultimately stemming from conservative and old-fashioned tactics that didn’t seek to bring the best out of such players. Even the few remaining individuals that were said to have liked Mourinho felt by Tuesday morning that they needed a fresh approach, and something that just involved a bit of adventure again. Many were frustrated with yet another defensive set-up at Anfield, and some seeing it as unbefitting of Manchester United.
This is now pointed to as a primary problem with his reign, and one major reason as to why he was ultimately sacked.
Again, no one can say the club weren’t warned. All of the misgivings about the football, about the promotion of young players, about tradition, about the bad feelings he creates at clubs, were proven true.
Underlying all of this was then Mourinho’s increasingly bad relationship with Woodward, with a problem with those above him just one more replayed beat from his career. The United executive vice-chairman made the massive mistake of giving the Portuguese a new contract earlier this year, only to realise by the summer that it was worth holding back on what were seen as problematically short-term transfer targets. It could be said they didn’t fit with the policy of the club but - to be fair to Mourinho - that is just another issue at United. There was no policy. This is something else that now must change, as they seek a director of football, and are now free of the arguments Mourinho had against that. The Portuguese never wanted to work with one, whereas United were intent on appointing. It became an increasingly key point.
Still, Woodward ultimately ignored the advice of senior football figures who said he would have to be mindful of “the noise that Mourinho creates” within a club, and "the trouble he brings”. Sir Alex Ferguson is said to have always had misgivings about the Portuguese succeeding him, and told United officials shortly after the Sevilla defeat in the Champions League last season that “something has to change”.
Something big has now changed, because Woodward could not ignore the bad feeling coming from the dressing room, or the “bad headlines”. This is something that the United chief is said to have become increasingly obsessed with over the last few weeks, with others mindful of the potential effect on the share price.
The stories of a club sale to private Saudi Arabian investors persist, which is one other reason why this was seen as unlikely. But those problems were seen as too big.
As to what next in the more immediate future, United want to make a stand-in appointment by Thursday, before re-assessing for the longer term in the summer.
That stand-in will also be a predictable direct response to the problems with Mourinho, as someone who “understands the tradition of the club”. Former players Laurent Blanc and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are being considered, with former assistant Carlos Queiroz also a fall-back option. They ultimately want someone who just restores a bit of good feeling again, and plays some United football.
The club, however, also needs to take a proper look now at what United should really be about.
That was never Mourinho.
It was an appointment that should never have been made.
Independent News Service