Old haunts no haven for cast-out Mourinho
Background photo: Ardfern, CC BY-SA 4.0
So the sword has finally fallen. Jose Mourinho is out at Manchester United. Poor results, poorer performances and disharmony everywhere have brought an end to his stint at Old Trafford. For Mourinho, it represents a second successive failure. He will point to the treble in his first year and a second-place finish last season but they are the thinnest silver lining receding before a dark cloud.
Mourinho was brought to United to restore its former glory. He was supposed to take them back to the top. More importantly, he was supposed to help them reign in Pep Guardiola. Instead, United are now as far from both as they have ever been. Nineteen points already separate them from their rivals. Even worse, old enemy Liverpool sit atop the table.
Mourinho’s star has never been so dim. His time in Manchester coupled with the fall from grace at Chelsea leave many questioning whether he’s still up to managing at the highest level.
For any other manager, failure at two big clubs such as these would spell the end. Not Mourinho. The Portuguese's innate ability to blame others while marketing himself ensures top jobs will be forthcoming. There have already been suggestions that Real Madrid will come calling again. A return to Inter has also been touted. Mourinho, it seems, won’t be short on offers.
When he does come to choose, he should do so wisely. The [less and less] Special One can ill afford another disaster. Indeed, he would be wise to avoid big clubs altogether. They are where he falters.
Much of that is to do with his modus operandi. His greatest success came at clubs where he was able to mould players and boardroom alike to his will. Porto did not have any defined style or way of doing things. Nor Chelsea during his first run. Nor Inter. Each was happy to follow his lead. There was no discontent among the squad. The fans didn't begrudge the playing style. En masse, they bought into Mourinho and his methods. He moulded those clubs in his image and they were willingly malleable.
Mourinho created a movement at each club. It focussed on him and his philosophies. The train ran in one direction and on time. The rewards were grand. Porto’s was the Champions League. Chelsea was domestic dominance. Inter Milan went for the whole shebang with an unprecedented treble.
When Mourinho went to clubs where others had ideas that opposed his, issues arose. Real Madrid had a firmly entrenched president and squad. They knew and wanted only one way to do things. The fans were behind them. Madridistas wanted Galactico football and entertainment. They wanted that even more when Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona reinvented football.
Instead, Mourinho offered them a defensive, boring style and regular controversy. He may have managed a league title and Copa del Rey success in Spain but no one was happy with him. He took on captain Iker Casillas and vice-captain Sergio Ramos. He came out on top against San Iker but not Ramos. Most of the squad sided with Ramos. Cristiano Ronaldo carefully chose neither side but certainly leaned in the club's direction. The train derailed. Mourinho was out.
It was the same at Manchester United. Ed Woodward isn't Florentino Perez, obsessed with competitive dominance. He is concerned with selling a marketable product. he was happy to sign supremely skilled attacking players. Mourinho was happy to break them. Fans divided. Some were desperate to win at all costs. Others wanted an energetic side that played with style and flair. United supporters want their team to attack. It's been successful for them since Sir Bobby Charlton's day. They wanted no change.
Mourinho never bought into that. Instead, he tried to force another giant club to mould to him. He never offered what Manchester United demands. Once again, the players revolted. Paul Pogba became United's Sergio Ramos. Ed Woodward was not interested in his most marketable player sitting on the bench in matches against Manchester City and Liverpool, almost certainly contemplating life and football in the Spanish capital. Mourinho was out.
The argument can also be made for his second spell at Chelsea. When he returned, the Blues board had direction, style and expectations that did not align with their old manager. The fans loved him and welcomed him with open arms. But even after delivering a third title, the fans were not enough. The players had pride, dignity and spirit that Mourinho could not break. When Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Cesc Fabregas were done with him, so was the club.
Mourinho should consider all this when he looks at his list of potential jobs. He may believe he is too big a name; too prestigious to take anything outside the Champions League. That's a foolish notion.
A big European team should not be his next destination. Instead, he should look at a second-rate European team hungry for success, willing to be moulded. There he can show his tactical acumen, turn them into title challengers and prove the doubters wrong. It’s what worked in the past. It's the only way to reignite his career.