After weeks of speculation, the axe has finally fallen on Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese has been told his services are no longer required at The Theatre of Dreams, bringing to an end his two and a half years at Manchester United.
His sacking followed months of poor results and lacklustre performances, leading to mass hostility from the fan base. Some polls had up to eighty per cent of supporters wanting rid of him, a grim statistic and further proof of the swelling discord at the club.
Perhaps the most damning thing of all for Mourinho was the disharmony in the dressing room. Once you’ve lost your players, it is only a matter of time for a manager. After this week’s events and recent results, it has been obvious that the players had long since abandoned their stations.
Whether through toxic infighting or disillusionment with the manager’s methods, the Manchester United players have played their part in Mourinho’s sacking. Many may well even be privately delighted with his departure, such was the alleged tension behind the scenes. This show of player power is becoming a regular and ugly facet of the game and has now touched one of England’s grandest sporting institutions.
It was often with amused bewilderment, that English football fans watched the almost constant turmoil afflicting the biggest clubs in Spain and Italy. Despite a healthy flow of trophies, star players and lucrative sponsors, the continents biggest clubs would hire and fire their coaches without a moment’s hesitation.
When scratching beneath the surface of this dizzying, revolving door staffing policy, it became clear that the true power brokers were often the players themselves. As contracts bulged and graphs depicting shirt sales became as important as fixture lists, players slowly woke up to their influence.
If a club’s superstars downed tools and pointed with a pouting lip to a trainer they don’t like, it could often spell doom for the man on the touchline. A perfect example of this comes from Real Madrid. Who else?
Los Blancos sacked Fabio Capello in 2007, after he had delivered them a league title. His time in charge though had been marred by media coverage of high profile tiffs with the club’s stellar names. Coupled with a perceived negative approach; the Italian had issues with Ronaldo, Cassano and David Beckham to name but three. Sound familiar?
Sacking a manager after winning a league title defies all logic. However, it’s what Real’s directors opted for. They wanted their lucrative players onside and happy and had obviously listened with growing alarm at the grumbling from the terraces and the dressing room. Player power ultimately won the day and the merry-go-round carried on revolving.
Player power is nothing new in the Premier League. Chelsea’s big names have voted with their feet several times over the past few years to the detriment of their manager. Rafa Benitez also took a huge dose of vitriol and blame for Xabi Alonso’s departure from Liverpool in 2009 after their relationship crumbled, with many players and fans turning on the manager in his final year at Anfield.
There’s no doubt of its spread, but Mourinho latest sacking marks a watershed moment for United. As things began to go pear-shaped at Old Trafford, it soon became clear that Ed Woodward may well have a stark choice to make; the players or the manager. This week, he chose the former and backed his players who he feels have much to give both on and off the field.
There are a lot of contributing factors to Mourinho’s sacking, but the inescapable fact remains; the players just didn’t seem happy and the rifts were growing. The Liverpool game was obviously the final wake up call for the United hierarchy. In the biggest game of the domestic calendar, £141 million worth of talent was left out of the starting XI. Pogba was on the bench, again, while Fred didn’t even make the squad. United were outclassed and their star names were nowhere to be seen. Alarm bells were clearly ringing and the decision to sack Mourinho may well have been expedited.
The manager was alienating and unsettling his players, while results were deteriorating. The players are not blameless and there will be plenty of anger in reserve from the fans towards some of their faltering, expensive names. Pogba’s behaviour has been pretty tasteless off the pitch, while his performances on it, have been so poor that they have been questions as to whether he was actively contributing to his manager’s downfall.
Whatever has gone on, it’s clear player power has contributed to the manager’s exit. There is obviously a lot more to his demise than the players downing tools, the situation has been complex and contentious for some time. However, the board believed the players were too good and crucially, perhaps too commercially viable to their business interests; a sacrifice has been made to keep them happy.
A precedent has now been set, the board has made it clear that their expensive investments on the pitch, are too precious to squander on a coach who has been deemed yesterday’s man. Even if that man had delivered two trophies and three finals for Manchester United in a tumultuous two-and-a-half years at Old Trafford.