Opposing fans have been letting him hear it. “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” they’ve been singing at Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. “Sacked in the morning.”
It seems that Mourinho’s United career is in hospice care, after beginning the Premier League season with two losses from three – the last one a disheveling 3-0 beating by Tottenham Hotspur at home.
After the final whistle, with much of the crowd long gone, Mourinho spent an inordinately long time standing and clapping in front of a small band of United fans chanting his name as the TV cameras lingered. As usual, he was probably trying to signal his support, fleeting though it may be, to the brass.
He then declared United the tactical and strategic winners of the game, before barking at the gathered press in the postgame conference that he deserved more respect for having won more Premier League titles than the other 19 managers combined – something that’s been true only since his verbal sparring partner Arsene Wenger left Arsenal this summer.
He seems to retain the club’s support for the time being, however tenuously. But since that game, the club has offered a new contract to Anthony Martial, the French forward Mourinho expressly wished to be rid of over the summer, suggesting the club is already planning for a life after Mourinho.
In the days following the game, several of the United players simultaneously tweeted about their unity, a concerted move suspicious for its very existence.
Now more than ever… Together. pic.twitter.com/B59GzE02dB
— Eric Bailly (@ericbailly24) August 29, 2018
It seems that away at winless Burnley on Sunday, Mourinho’s job is on the line. If it isn’t a lost cause already, but for the hiring of a replacement. Just last January Mourinho extended his contract through next season, with an option for another year. It wasn’t a hugely long commitment, but nevertheless a vote of confidence.
That was then.
Now, in the apparent final days of Mourinho’s time at United, there’s a broadly held theory that time passed him by. That, like Arsene Wenger in his last years at Arsenal, his tactics and methods just became less and less effective, until it all just didn’t work anymore.
There’s something to be said for that. Or maybe time didn’t pass him by entirely, but simply caught up with him. For years with Chelsea, with Inter Milan, with Real Madrid and with Chelsea again, briefly, Mourinho thrived because he knew how to set up an impenetrable defense and a counter-attack quicker than a mouse-trap. And that set him apart in an age besotted by possession. Everybody else’s preoccupation with having the ball enabled Mourinho as a contrarian tactician. But today most of the major teams play on the counter, eroding his edge.
In the same way Mourinho was the larger-than-life manager before that were a half dozen of those. His brashness and arrogance and preening persona made him a cult figure. But then Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola became a demigod and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp charmed every camera he faced. Mauricio Pochettino’s steady personality and careful shaping of Spurs have made him a quiet hero. Chelsea’s journeyman Maurizio Sarri enchants with his backstory of impossible ascent and sumptuous soccer. Even Leeds United’s Marcelo Bielsa holds the soccer world in his thrall for his unpredictability and luscious playing style. Meanwhile, an increasingly bitter and cranky Mourinho slowly lost his aura of invincibility and specialness.
The latter-day Mourinho is a caricature of his old self.
But more than that, he doesn’t seem to be nearly as effective a coach as he once was. Mourinho learned the craft as Louis van Gaal’s assistant at FC Barcelona, after being promoted from translator, by literally observing the veteran Dutchman and writing down everything he did. From there, he established his bona fides by somehow squeezing a UEFA Cup and a Champions League out of FC Porto; winning a raft of silverware with a Chelsea team that had always been rich but perennial also-rans; coaxing a second Champions League out of an aging Inter team; finally getting Real Madrid past the first knockout round in Europe; and building a second Premier League champion at Chelsea.
His teams used to outperform their talent. Now, they toil in their own shadow. Several players looked a great deal better with their previous clubs, or indeed their national teams at the World Cup. It’s pretty apparent that Mourinho can’t, or won’t, get the most out of record signing Paul Pogba. And that Romelu Lukaku functions better with Belgium than he does for United. That’s true for several others.
Mourinho was always difficult, but his results were unassailable. Wherever he went, things ended in tears, but first there were trophies. Those have been there at United too, with a Europa League and an EFL Cup. But he has yet to win anything that will sate United’s rightfully demanding fan base.
Mourinho ran on revenge, a potent fuel to his rise. He was, at various turns, snubbed for his dream jobs. When Barca wouldn’t hire him back as their manager, he joined Real instead. And it took a second spell at Chelsea before he could finally land the United gig he had coveted all along. But now that he has it, now that he’s finally been given the chance to fulfill the dream he has publicly professed to have – to become a second Sir Alex Ferguson and lead the Red Devils to a decade or more of glory – he has conjured new snubs and enemies.
Mostly, Mourinho now seems to whine that he hasn’t been given the players he needs by United executive and designated deal-maker Ed Woodward. And considering all the investment in United’s squad since Mourinho arrived – a half billion pounds or so – the excuse rings hollow to many. Mourinho seems no longer to find the right roles for players and make them better. He wants his problems solved by throwing money at them. He has pricey players in every position – if not two or three of them – but it’s never enough. The excuses never end.
His ire is principally aimed at journalists and Woodward, the man he feels has denied him the defensive upgrades he needed – never mind that the market inflation put a towering price tag on central defenders who only represented a small upgrade on his current options. Mourinho didn’t help himself when he openly vented his frustration about an American preseason tour absent most of his World Cup-going contingent.
In truth, Mourinho hasn’t helped himself in a long time. His players might no longer help him either. While he doesn’t yet seem to have an all-out player revolt on his hands, like in his final Chelsea spell, you can only insult your bosses and get away with it for so long. And at some point, players get sick of hearing publicly that they’re the problem.
So Mourinho needs to win. And win and win and win. To save his hide.
Or he’ll be sacked in the morning.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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