The mystique has gone as United spell ends in divorce

Rewind to May 2016 and a misty-eyed Portuguese walked through the door at Old Trafford, declaring Manchester United to have a “mystique and a romance which no other club can match”.

Given his emotional attachment to Chelsea, solidified by two spells at Stamford Bridge, and the fact he had already managed arguably the most glamorous football club on the planet in Real Madrid, this was the bullish Jose Mourinho we’d come to expect.

Strip back the hyperbole and the message was clear: this was his dream job.

Now, 935 days later, it’s all over.

And while a third-year sacking is not remarkable in itself – it merely continues a trend in Mourinho’s career – the way in which his United tenure panned out, lurching from one miserable episode to another, certainly raises eyebrows.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that Mourinho the manager is done at the top level. A failure to successfully relate to members of his squad, most notably Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw, young players with opinions and profiles, suggests his methods are outdated.

Previously, Mourinho dominated a dressing room, even one that contained John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. They would strain every sinew to play for their boss.

But his repeated run-ins with Pogba were emblematic of a power struggle he was never going to win; the dynamic has shifted.

And in an era where methods are almost as important as results for the modern footballer, asking a talented squad to employ tactics that have failed to evolve since his first spell at Chelsea was always going to end badly.

Anyone who witnessed United’s defeat at the hands of an energetic, buoyant Liverpool on Sunday could see it demonstrated perfectly: Mourinho had sapped the life out of a group of players, leaving them disillusioned and disinterested.

Is the current malaise solely Mourinho’s fault? No, of course not.

United have been rudderless since twin totems Alex Ferguson and David Gill left in 2013. Ferguson’s retirement left a void understandably impossible to fill but only now can United fans appreciate the job Gill did in providing the off-field stability required for a club to thrive on it.

His replacement, Ed Woodward, has continued the commercial success – not a day goes by without the club announcing a new partner, be it motorcycles, watches or ‘coffee solutions’ – but the gap between dugout and boardroom appears significantly vast.

What ensues is a transfer policy that is muddled and without direction.

Alexis Sanchez was brought in to much fanfare but has made little impact, while the £52million signing of Fred, a player Mourinho admitted earlier this month would not play until United were stronger defensively, borders on the bizarre.

Out of touch in the dressing room, outdated tactically and outwitted in the transfer market.

Mourinho, for all his faults, is a shrewd operator and it’s likely he was becoming aware of his shortcomings. It’s perhaps one reason why his final few months resembled a juggernaut heading for the cliff.

Every press conference was the same. He was tetchy, gruff, unhappy and overtly swift to talk up his previous achievements elsewhere.

So, what next for a man self-dubbed the ‘Special One’? Well, don’t rule out a return to Real Madrid with reports suggesting Florentino Perez is willing to buck common perception and give the Portuguese another crack at the Bernabeu.

But his Manchester United race is run – as is, most likely, his time in England.

He leaves the club in sixth place in the Premier League but the collateral damage is widespread. United have already said it requires two men to clean up the mess; one until the end of the season and another for the longer term.

As for “mystique and romance”, the former has long since gone and the latter has ended in an unhappy divorce.

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