Manchester United and Jose Mourinho: Two lovers who were never meant to be
Manchester United's sacking of manager Jose Mourinho had been a long time coming. After failing to win a major trophy last year and maintaining a distasteful sixth position in the Premier League this season, the writing was always on the wall for the Portuguese giant. All in all, Mourinho's tenure at Old Trafford resulted in just three trophies- a Europa League, a League Cup and a Community Shield. The statistics do not back the man and seem almost unpleasant for a club as big in stature as Manchester United.
Mourinho would not have been human if he hadn't seen this coming. If failing to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League last season by losing to Spanish side Sevilla was termed as a one-off, failing to challenge, or rather chase, cross-city rivals Manchester City for the title this year was surely what Ed Woodward and the members of the Board at United needed to call time on Mourinho's reign at Old Trafford.
The hunt for the Premier League title seems laughable and the pursuit for a top four position in the league table to secure qualification for the Champions League next season looks like a distant dream too. What has to be applauded, however, is that Mourinho leaves United richer than when he had arrived. Although the current bunch of players lack skill, strength and an overall desire to do well for United, Mourinho cannot be ticked off for not trying his best or giving his all during his stay at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester.
The biggest positive that Mourinho imbibed at United was a winning mentality which the players seemed to lack after a few horrific years under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. He challenged the well-set players and inspired the youngsters to fight for a berth in the starting XI. Helped by the ageing Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016, his first year in charge, Mourinho could not win the Premier League, but brought them back to Champions League after they had fallen from grace in the previous season.
The acquisition of Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof in 2017 to supplement the arrivals of Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly respectively was supposed to bring a new sea of change at Old Trafford. However, the aforementioned Frenchman has not quite lived up to the hype that surrounded him and as always, the dagger fell on the softest target available- Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho also brought in the Brazilian midfielder Fred this season to 'unlock' Pogba's potential but we are still to see any improvement in United's midfield. What will go down in United's history is that the failure to get the best out of an uninspired Pogba is what eventually led to Mourinho's untimely dismissal from Old Trafford. Henrikh Mkhitaryan may be another player who feels wronged by the Portuguese but the Armenian was simply a pawn caught in the crossfire between the egos of Mourinho, Pogba and Ed Woodward.
While he had been known throughout the world for his defensive supremacy, Mourinho failed to establish any of that at Old Trafford. United have maintained only two clean sheets this season and he was deemed to not know who his best centre-backs were up till the day he was dismissed. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof thrived under him, as did Bailly from time to time (although his inconsistency must have given Mourinho, along with a million United fans across the world, nightmares) but Phil Jones, the other survivor from the Ferguson era, along with David de Gea and Smalling, was pathetic to say the least.
United were often caught on the attack by opposition teams and Mourinho will always be blamed for not imbibing defensive discipline among his wards and this, probably, was the greatest mistake that he made in his time at Old Trafford. If there was anyone apart from David de Gea between the sticks for United, it needs no saying that they would have conceded far more goals than they have done so far this season.
In the end, it was his sour relation with midfield maestro Pogba that opened the gates of hell for Mourinho. He had quite clearly lost the trust of his players and commanded little presence in the United dressing room. Public announcements of a lack of faith in his players from which Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial suffered the most was another nail in Mourinho's managerial coffin. Manchester was no longer United.
Like two star-crossed lovers who went above and beyond their means, the story of Manchester United and Jose Mourinho will always be one of what might have been. Had the 'Special One' been given a more tightly-knit team with players who valued the badge on the left side of their shirt, perhaps he could really have brought United back to the heights of greatness where they belong. Instead, Sevilla, Bristol City and at last Derby County got a taste of how far the mighty have fallen.
Jose Mourinho tried his best to uplift Manchester United and by all statistical records, remains the only manager at Old Trafford to have the highest win percentage after Sir Alex Ferguson. He never could establish himself as a worthy successor of the revered Scotsman, but it was more of Manchester United's loss than his.
Thank you for allowing every Manchester United fan to dream.