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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Short-termist Jose Mourinho sadly fits in at what feels like a soulless Manchester United club

For all his faults, he feels ideal manager for modern United: not in terms of what they want to be, or what they used to be, or what they think they are, but what they actually are

The sound of mockery probably was not audible the best part of 300 kilometres away.

After their dismal defeat at West Ham United, Manchester United were probably boarding their train back from London around the time on Saturday afternoon that the Manchester City fans launched into a chorus of “don’t sack Mourinho”.

Schadenfreude can feel a growing feature of football support and it is often misguided. Yet it has come to something when Jose Mourinho, who used cutting comments to undermine many a rival, is now the subject of such mockery, when the author of a thousand jibes is now the recipient of them.

Antonio Conte’s sneer last year about a “Mourinho season” appears as prescient as it was memorable. Mourinho’s United look fractured and fractious, just as his Chelsea did three years ago in another third-season slump.

Rewind 12 months and United had already scored four goals in six different games. They had only dropped two points. It felt entirely plausible Mourinho could win his gladiatorial battle with Pep Guardiola for the title. His dismissal would have been welcomed by the City faithful.

Now?

It is less a question of if Mourinho leaves but how and when; if, as at Chelsea, things spiral so far downhill that he has to be removed to defumigate the place, if his is a drawn-out goodbye, delayed by false dawns, or if he can salvage a sense of respectability by clinching a top-four finish.

Yet it borders on the inconceivable that he will win the title with United, and not just this season. His tenure has become a damage-limitation exercise with Mourinho seemingly most concerned with protecting his reputation.

His band of defenders are diminishing. Yet if they are right that the issues do not begin and end at the Portuguese’s door, it is just as correct to say that he is part of the problem.

They abound, which explains why, in a perverse way, he feels the ideal manager for the modern United: not in terms of what they want to be, or what they used to be, or what they think they are, but what they actually are.

It is both mismatch and meeting of minds. A short-termist manager is at a short-termist club, playing joyless, soulless football at what sadly feels a joyless, soulless club.

There seems a mutual fixation on money – Mourinho concentrating on whatever others spend, United on how much they can make – and an attention-seeking, self-defeating narcissism.

Mourinho’s training-ground contretemps with Paul Pogba last week felt a perfect storm to illustrate the modern-day United.

It was a combination of the player’s social-media fixation and reach, the manager’s paranoia and United’s dreadful wifi, which has been the cause of complaints to Uefa but which, amid the amateurishness and incompetence that characterise some parts of the club, remains wretched.

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Read more:

Steve Luckings: Sacking feels liks last straw in Pogba's relationship with Mourinho

Ian Oxborrow: Barca or Madrid - Where will Pogba go if he leaves Man United?

Issues Mourinho is facing: Pogba's form and lack of goals and clean sheets

Andy Mitten: Sanchez's form becoming a concern for Manchester United

As Sanchez struggles, here's 7 other big-name Manchester United flops

Zidane and five other candidates to replace Mourinho at Man United

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The relationship between Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho has been under the scanner in recent times. Reuters
The relationship between Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho has been under the scanner in recent times. Reuters

Like Alexis Sanchez, Pogba symbolises United’s magnetic attraction to the famous. But so does Mourinho.

If the sense is that United are proceeding on the basis that Real Madrid’s Galactico project was an unqualified success, rather than a warning of the dangers of ignoring teamwork, they now have a situation where egos collide.

Mourinho’s attempts to impose his own authority have taken the steps of ill-advised experiments that have highlighted his own propensity to fall out with players.

Using midfielder Scott McTominay in a back three at West Ham was no more successful than deploying midfielder Ander Herrera in a back three against Tottenham Hotspur. Eric Bailly, United’s best centre-back, went unused in both defeats.

When Mourinho tries to stop United looking like a star vehicle, he risks looking like a parody of himself, packing his side with six-footers, playing as if his side are underdogs. Limited football can get some results, but it still underlines the sense that, individually and collectively, Mourinho’s United are falling far short of their potential.

Yet when uninspired competence feels the best-case scenario, it shows why rivals are delighting in Mourinho’s decline.