There is something cruel in regular life about celebrating when another man loses their job. Then again, not many jobs have the sort of direct bearing a football manager’s job has on people’s collective emotions and moods.
So on Tuesday morning, when Manchester United issued a statement announcing that their hugely popular Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho “has left the club with immediate effect” it triggered a mass wave of delight among Manchester United fans.
The memes flowed and the once Special One became the sacked one. Videos of fans celebrating, posts declaring “good riddance to bad” rubbish were rife.
That reaction was hugely indicative of his difficult spell in charge of the club that prides itself as the biggest club in the world. The evidence on the pitch in his two and half years in charge did not remotely reflect that.
He leaves Manchester United trailing Premier League leaders Liverpool by 19 points in what is their worse start to a season in 28 years.
It started so well though. When Mourinho arrived at United to take over the unpopular Louis Van Gaal, he was roundly welcomed as the man to return the club to it’s glory days. United had stagnated under the Dutchman, their football had gone stale and Mourinho’s wining mentality rightly inspired genuine hope.
He himself was convinced the time was right. “I think I am in the right moment of my career. Man United is a giant club and the giant club must be for the best managers,” he decalred.
Not even the fact that the club has struggled since Alex Fergusson left could affect Mourinho’s mood. “I prefer to focus on the giant club that I have. I want to win.”
And he won a few. There was the Community Shield when Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the winning goal goal. The League Cup and Europa League, which secured a return to the Champions League in his first season back at the club, suggested he had brought that strong determination to win back.
That sense improved when the club signed Paul Pogba back for a then world record fee. The idea was that he was the missing piece in a larger puzzle.
“Paul is one of the best players in the world and will be a key part of the United team I want to build here for the future, Mourinho said.
“He is quick, strong, scores goals and reads the game better than many players much older than he is. At 23, he has the chance to make that position his own here over many years.”
That didn’t happen and rather than become the catalyst for more trophy, he effectively became the catalyst for his downfall with regular reports of a fall out between the two and general suggestions that he didn’t have the backing of the players.
He disputed that of course. “One lie repeated 1,000 times is still a lie, but the perception of the people is that it’s true but it’s still a lie. So, when you repeat 1,000 times that my relationship with my players is not good, it’s a lie that repeated 1,000 times is still a lie.”
What is definite now is how the latest sacking has damaged his brand and left United railing again. His proven track record plus United’s immense resources was supposed to be the combination that restored them to the top of the English game on the pitch. Instead he will head wondering what’s next and clutching to the past achievements he has become an expert at sneaking into conversations at any opportunity. For United, it is a third failed attempt to replace the legendary Ferguson. They will hope they get it right this time before they fall further behind their rivals.
By Michael Oti Adjei
The writer is the Group Head of Sports at Media General