Jose Mourinho has been sacked as Manchester United manager, with fans’ favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looking set to take over as caretaker manager for the rest of the season.
Appointed to much fanfare in the summer of 2016, the Portuguese became the first manager in the club’s history to win a major trophy in his maiden season.
Mourinho’s Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield successes were followed by runners-up finishes in the Premier League and FA Cup last term, but this campaign things have gone awry from the outset.
United have their worst points return after 17 matches in the Premier League era, with Sunday’s chastening 3-1 loss at Liverpool leaving them 19 points behind their bitter rivals.
They also face an eye-watering 11-point gap to the top four, leading the club to dismiss Mourinho at the end of a year that started with handing him a contract extension.
United have moved quickly to find a caretaker manager for the rest of the season, with a deal to appoint Molde boss Solskjaer seemingly ironed out.
A video on the club’s official website was posted on Tuesday evening with the caption: “Solskjaer becomes our interim manager, 20 seasons after clinching the Treble with THAT goal at Camp Nou…”
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg also appeared to let the cat out of the bag, posting on Twitter: “Great day for Norwegian football. Good luck keeping control of the Red Devils, @ olegs26_ole”
Both the video and tweet were quickly removed.
Solskjaer had 11 years at United as a player, memorably scoring in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich to seal the treble in 1999, and spent a period as their reserve coach, working with the likes of Paul Pogba.
The 45-year-old left to join Molde and, after an ill-fated spell at the helm of Saturday’s opponents Cardiff, returned to the Norwegian club, where he signed a new three-year deal at the start of December.
A senior figure at Molde refused to comment about Solskjaer’s potential move to United when contacted by Press Association Sport on Tuesday, but – perhaps tellingly – ended their message with a smiling emoji.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant Mike Phelan is reportedly in the frame to work with Solskjaer after United called time on Mourinho’s reign on Tuesday morning and opted to move for a coach with links to the club.
A club statement read: “Manchester United announces that manager Jose Mourinho has left the club with immediate effect.
“The club would like to thank Jose for his work during his time at Manchester United and wish him success in the future.
“A new caretaker manager will be appointed until the end of the current season, while the club conducts a thorough recruitment process for a new, full-time manager.”
Training was taken on Tuesday by first-team coach Michael Carrick after Mourinho was told of his dismissal by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward in a face-to-face meeting at the Aon Training Complex.
Carrick, Kieran McKenna and goalkeeping coach Emilio Alvarez remain, but the Portuguese’s long-standing coaching staff are understood to have followed him out of the club.
Mourinho left Carrington in a car at around 1225 and was later seen leaving his home at the Lowry hotel, where he was met by cameras and asked how he was feeling. “OK, my friend,” Mourinho said, before posing for pictures.
While the sacking shocked the footballing world, talk of the manager’s impending departure appeared to be building in the United dressing room before the announcement.
Few are understood to be sad to see him leave, both in terms of the club’s players and staff, with Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino believed to be the main target to take the reins next summer.
But first comes a short-term managerial replacement, along with an extensive and thorough process to belatedly rejig United’s background structure.
The club intend to finally bring in a head of football, reporting to executive vice-chairman Woodward, to oversee football operations – a role it is understood Mourinho had a long-standing reluctance about.
But such changes in the long-term interests of the club are why United’s hierarchy felt it was important to act now, with a period as unsettling as it has been disappointing leading to concerns growing over the lack of progress in terms of results and style of play.
The decision to sack Mourinho will be costly, but that figure pales into insignificance when it comes to the 11 players he was allowed to bring in at a cost of circa £400million.
Pogba was the biggest acquisition during his tenure, signing in 2016 for a then world-record fee. Yet the World Cup-winning France midfielder has regressed under the Portuguese, who has left him on the bench in recent matches as their relationship became further strained.
Pogba posted on social media shortly after the announcement of Mourinho’s sacking, with a picture of himself with a quizzical expression and the words “Caption this”. The post was subsequently deleted and led to a barrage of criticism.
While player power is not believed to have had an impact in the decision to fire Mourinho, Pogba is one of a number of players who will be happy with the change at the helm.
The Portuguese has fallen out with a variety of players, while his strong criticism in public and within the dressing room is understood to have annoyed – and at times bemused – his team.
The way younger squad members’ development has been stunted has been a concern to the club, whose tradition in bringing through young talent is as well-documented as their focus on attacking football and silverware.
Mourinho was failing on all three fronts, but had been hopeful of turning things around. However, he is now set to spend Christmas with his family having failed to launch a title challenge – just like predecessors David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal.
Both paid with their jobs after failing to seal Champions League qualification, but this time United have acted early to kick-start their faltering campaign just three years and a day after Mourinho got sacked by Chelsea for the second time.