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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Jose Mourinho: Once the face of gleaming modernity, now more a toxic dinosaur

Portuguese manager leaves Manchester United after two-and-a-half years in charge and with the club closer in points to the Premier League relegation zone than the leaders

It was a sadly fitting ending, and not merely because he was sacked almost three years to the day since the axe fell at Chelsea.

Jose Mourinho’s valedictory match as Manchester United manager encapsulated everything that was wrong with his reign. Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield featured one manager, in Jurgen Klopp, who could galvanise players and supporters alike, and another who alienated growing numbers.

This was a microcosm of Mourinho’s shortcomings at United. There was the inability to get the best from his players or to keep a clean sheet. There were the confused tactics. There was the preference for size over talent, the innate tendency to turn to Marouane Fellaini, come what may, the increasingly unpragmatic pragmatism.

There was the illustration of an awful record in the transfer market, with Paul Pogba an unused substitute and Fred not even in the matchday 18. There were the grim numbers as Liverpool had 36 shots to go 19 points ahead of their historic rivals.

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If Mourinho was once the face of gleaming modernity in management, he had begun to look a toxic dinosaur. Each of the top five teams play quicker, better football than his United. They are tactically superior, defensively more organised, benefiting from more progressive ideas, conjuring improvement from plenty of players. Their managers proved capable of speaking into a microphone without undermining their charges.

The chances are that the emotions in the United dressing are a mixture of relief and pleasure. His departure feels like a merciful release: for them, but also for him. Mourinho seemed to have derived precious little enjoyment from managing United, especially in the last year.

If it long seemed a dream job for a man who regarded Alex Ferguson as the managerial godfather, Mourinho rarely appeared to treat it that way, and not merely because he spent two-and-a-half years living in a hotel.

He is not alone in identifying flaws at United, a club too concerned with the commercial, too in thrall to big names, but a short-termist who did not bring short-term success, who did not instil any kind of footballing philosophy, made it feel still more soulless and joyless.

A test of any manager’s work on or off the pitch is if he leaves a club in a better position than he inherited it. Mourinho can cite the two trophies in his debut season and the second-placed finish, United’s best since Ferguson retired, the following year but a 19-point gap to City and defeats to all three promoted teams tell another story.

In the opening weeks of last season, he seemed to be building a formidable team - physical, clinical and defensively sound. But the scale of the subsequent decline has been shocking. United have been abominable in 2018, an awful team playing awful football.

And so Mourinho leaves United in a worse state than they were when he replaced Louis van Gaal: closer on points to Fulham than Liverpool, having conceded more goals than Huddersfield Town, with the same goal difference as Leicester City and the same number of wins as Bournemouth.

It is almost inconceivable that they would have qualified for the Uefa Champions League again had he remained in situ, and results alone, let alone dreadful displays, constituted grounds for dismissal.

His eventual replacement faces a huge rebuilding job; channelling the potential Mourinho left untapped among the players whom he criticised will be a start but he spent £400 million (Dh1.86 billion) and arguably the only unqualified success among his signings was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who, for all his sizeable wages, was a free transfer. Unlike the others, he regarded Mourinho as a mentor.

Like the Portuguese, he felt a throwback. Perhaps Mourinho was the manager United should have appointed in 2013 when he was nearer his peak. By 2018, he had become the wrong man.

For the first time since he left Uniao de Leiria in 2002, he goes without winning a league title. Perhaps for the first time ever, he has failed. It has been grim.

Updated: December 18, 2018 06:21 PM

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