Jose Mourinho, coach of Manchester United, has been under great scrutiny during his time in charge. In the aftermath of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, things haven’t been as great as they used to be for the Red Devils. Fellow trainers David Moyes and Louis van Gaal have all come and gone since, and now the end seems to be beckoning for Mourinho. A variety of reasons have been given for the firing of the Portuguese coach, so let’s take a look at the most valid ones.
However, beforehand, I just want to clarify an aspect of this developing story that I have an issue with. Many say this is “Mourinho’s third-season syndrome,” referring to the fact that his third seasons always go wrong. But this is false. Taking a look at the major clubs he has coached, this so-called “trend” has only happened twice.
At Porto, he left the club to join Chelsea after some incredible achievements, including winning the UEFA Champions League in his second and final season. His first stint at Chelsea ended early in his fourth season and it wasn’t because he ran the club into a crisis. Inter Milan was his next destination, and his time there was similar to his time at Porto. He was there for two seasons and left after winning the UCL, a part of Inter’s treble success, to join Real Madrid. At Real Madrid, he fell out with members of his squad and issues arose, leading to him leaving the club in his third season.
This is where the “third-season” concept arises. Mourinho’s next job was his second time in charge of Chelsea where he also fell out with players and was let go in the middle of his third season as the club played well below expected standards. Clearly, Mourinho isn’t a coach who loses it his third season.
Although it is true that his last two clubs ended in his third seasons because of conflict in the dressing room and a lack of success, this doesn’t mean he brings a “third-season syndrome” wherever he goes. Whether or not Mourinho is sacked this season at Manchester United, it is not because of this confabulated idea of the third season.
So, now let’s get to the main reasons Mourinho might be fired:
1. Manchester United might miss out on the top four
Manchester United currently find themselves in eighth place in the English Premier League table after eight games, seven points behind both Manchester City and Liverpool, who tied in their latest match. The Red Devils have grown accustomed to fighting for titles every season and that hasn’t happened since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Although United finished second last season, the margin between first and second was a total of 19 points and that just isn’t good enough. However, it represented progress and it was expected the club would kick on to challenge this season.
However, so far, the team looks more likely to miss out on the top four than to fight for the title. Both Manchester City and Liverpool already seem miles ahead of Manchester United as they are the favorites to win the league. In addition, the surprising start from Chelsea suggests they may also be in the title conversation as well. All three of these teams look certain to finish in the top three spots as of right now. Tottenham hasn’t been as convincing as in other seasons, but they definitely have more than enough to compete for fourth; they have beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford 3-0 already this season. Even Arsenal are doing better than Manchester United after having to adapt to Arsene Wenger leaving the club after so many years. Looking at all these clubs, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see United finish in sixth given their struggles this season. Losses to Brighton & Hove Albion, Tottenham at home, a draw to Wolverhampton Wanderers at home, and a loss to West Ham just doesn’t portray the form of a team headed for the top four.
There is lots of time for this to all change considering this weekend was only matchday eight, but things must improve to secure a UCL spot for next season. That would certainly show the club isn’t progressing and questions should be asked of the coach if they don’t qualify.
2. Manchester United struggles in Europe
Manchester United used to be expected to challenge for every trophy and that included the UCL. The club last reached the final in 2011 and have only gone as far as the quarterfinals since. This lack of success in Europe was apparent even with Ferguson as the team was knocked out of the group stages the season after making it all the way to the final.
However, Manchester United’s record in Europe since 2011 is below the club’s standards. In Mourinho’s first season, Manchester United won the Europa League and qualified for the UCL. There, they were knocked out by Sevilla, who were deemed as the underdogs in the tie. With no disrespect to Sevilla, there is a gap in quality between the two teams, so United losing represented a failure.
In this season, progress should be expected considering Mourinho has had another season with the players. They have been placed into Group H along with Juventus, Valencia, and Young Boys. The draw wasn’t kind to the Manchester club, but they are still favored to qualify for the next round. Taking into account the struggles this season has already brought, United could fail to get out of the group stages. Juventus have gotten stronger and now boast former United player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and although Valencia have struggled in La Liga, they are still a very strong team. Manchester United have four points after two games, beating Young Boys away and tying to Valencia at home. The performance against Valencia wasn’t where it should be and Manchester United will need to be careful as matches against Juventus home and away, and away to Valencia, lie ahead. If they get knocked out in the group stages, that would represent a step backwards, reflecting poorly on Mourinho.
3. Manchester United’s lack of progress
As reflected above, Manchester United doesn’t seem to be improving, despite the fact that Mourinho has had more time with the team. When a coach is employed at the club, it is expected that he should help the squad to improve and push the team to achieve more and more.
If that isn’t happening, then either the team remains stagnant or its level is dropping. Looking at Mourinho’s time at United, the team has changed personnel and the quality of players has improved, but performances don’t seem to be getting better.
Improvement could be seen between the first and second seasons of Mourinho’s reign, but this one feels like they aren’t, and may even be getting worse. The time, effort, and finances that have been invested into making this team challenge for league titles, and the UEFA Champions League again, hasn’t produced dividends as of yet.
Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp’s time at Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s time at Manchester City have shown clear signs of development. Manchester City won the Premier League last season in record fashion while Liverpool made it to the UCL Final. If Mourinho’s United aren’t showing signs of improvement, his position needs to be questioned.
For example, this season it has become growingly apparent that Mourinho doesn’t know what his best defense is. He has switched between a back three and a back four with multiple combinations of center back parings that have sometimes even included center midfielders due to a lack of trust in his center backs. If Ander Herrera or Scott McTominay are being chosen over actual defenders, there is an obvious problem. After two complete seasons at the club, Mourinho should have had this issue dealt with already.
4. Transfer window mistakes – and more lack of improvement in the existing squad
As alluded to previously, large amounts of money have been utilized to improve the squad as a bid to push for titles again. However, many transfers didn’t work out while others failed to materialize.
One example is Alexis Sanchez. He came in on a free from Arsenal but is paid an incredible amount in wages, despite failing to merit that, given his overall poor performances for the club.
Mourinho decided to bring in both Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf, but the former isn’t consistent enough and the latter hasn’t worked out yet. As a result, last summer he wanted to purchase another center back.
Regardless of the amount of money the club has to spend, they shouldn’t have to purchase three center backs to sort out the defense. The issues with the transfer window have reportedly driven the club to consider and look into options for a sporting director to oversee and manage transfer business. Manchester United has never had a sporting director, so it speaks to the lack of trust in Mourinho for transfers moving forward.
Improving the squad should also result from the players already at the club getting better. Under Mourinho this doesn’t seem to have happened with anyone.
Attacking players like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have stalled in their early careers. They perform well every once in a while, but are mostly too inconsistent. Jurgen Klopp on the other hand has improved players like Andrew Robertson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Mohamed Salah. Under another manager, Alexis Sanchez, Paul Pogba, and more, would thrive and produce the world class performances expected of them when they came in on a consistent basis. Mourinho just fails to get the best out of his players and that costs him in games because they have to grind out results or resort to crossing the ball to Marouane Fellaini in a desperate push for goals.
5. The ‘United way’ is long gone
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United became a club associated with a philosophy of playing, the ‘United way’. Soccer, utilizing width and lots of attacks, means entertainment, which is what the fans expect. But after Ferguson, that change.
The desire for attractive soccer remains and Mourinho was just never going to deliver that. He is a manager who is driven by results and nothing else. He could care less how his team wins, as long as they just get the three points, he is satisfied.
During his time as Manchester United coach, he has often defended deep or ‘parked the bus’ to see out results. However, fans have at times grown frustrated by this as they just want to see their side dominate the opposition and score goals.
If Mourinho gets results, everything will be fine, because at the end of the day, soccer is a results business, but as soon as results start to go against him, cries against his negative style of play have and will continue to emerge. If results don’t come in, the style of play doesn’t justify itself and so if the soccer is both ineffective and unattractive, then questions will be asked about Mourinho.
Fans will definitely be a factor as they could turn on him if results don’t come as they continue to crave the attacking soccer that came to define the club they love so much.
6. Mourinho was never a long-term solution
As shown earlier, Mourinho doesn’t stick around at his clubs for long. Two to three years has become the expected time span Mourinho spends at a club based on his previous times at other clubs.
Therefore, upon his hiring by Manchester United, the club definitely knew that it was likely that he wasn’t going to stay that long. Even if they discussed their mutual intentions for this to be a long-term relationship, there was no evidence that Mourinho could successfully sustain success for an extended period at a single club.
Being successful for a season or a few seasons is difficult, but the ability to sustain continued success has proved exceedingly hard to maintain and so the likelihood of Mourinho being United manager for a long time was always unlikely. His contract was renewed in January, but what he had done didn’t deserve that. Winning the FA Cup, EFL Cup, Europa League, and Community Shield was great, but United is a club that wants Premier League titles and UCL titles. All of those trophies were won during the period between Ferguson’s reign and Mourinho’s management aside from the Europa League, but as said before, the Europa League is below United’s standards.
Although Mourinho has had some success, this was nothing that suggested the club was getting closer to winning the league or challenging in Europe’s elite club competition again, so it hasn’t been enough to decide that staying with Mourinho was the right choice.
7. Zinedine Zidane is available
It is a gamble, but if he should be interested, maybe Zinedine Zidane is worth the risk. The first coach to defend a UCL title with the same club didn’t stop there as he won an unprecedented three UCL titles in a row at Real Madrid.
Reports suggest the dressing room is damaged at Manchester United, so having a legendary former player as a coach would demand respect from everyone. Plus, Zidane is a coach who builds great relationships with his players and has a unique ability to manage the egos and various personalities within a team, a quality that could be critical to bringing success back to the Red Devils. Paul Pogba and Antony Martial would certainly love to have fellow Frenchman, Zidane, as their coach.
Lastly, Mourinho is eventually going to leave the club, but whenever he does, it seems logical that Zidane would be at, if not near, the top of the list of replacements; he is available now and who knows if he will be whenever Mourinho leaves the club. His attitude represents such a contrast to Mourinho’s.
The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ has often criticized his players, spoken in ways that give the impression he feels he is bigger than the club, and his overall arrogance has been interpreted as toxic. Whether it was being upset Martial wasn’t with the team following the birth of his child, publicly stripping Paul Pogba of the possibility of being captain of the team again, or even claiming he knew a recent penalty shootout would be lost because Phil Jones was stepping up next, Mourinho’s tendency to criticize his players doesn’t help the team. Comments about United’s recent troubles in the UCL including himself beating the Red Devils twice at his previous clubs to defend his own shortcomings is ridiculous. Zidane’s relaxed and more positive attitude would be a welcome change for the team.
There are plenty of reasons to sack Jose Mourinho, but what is clear is that the decision whether to stick with him or not will be huge. Manchester United is a club that values trust and they don’t want to become a team that frequently changes coaches. Time will tell what United decide to do and, in the meantime, hopes are just that the team can improve and return to their lofty status as England’s best.