THE final indignity for Jose Mourinho was both cruel and crushing.
Just seconds remained at Anfield in what proved to be the Portuguese’s final game at the helm of Manchester United.
The hosts led 3-1, but it could easily have been more. Liverpool had been everything that United are not this season and the locals were loving every second.
“Don’t sack Mourinho,” came the chant from the Kop, the smiles of those doing the mocking almost as wide as the gulf in class between the two teams on the pitch.
A tipping point had been reached. These two old foes had traded blows for decade after decade, revelling almost as much in the failures of the other lot from down the end of the East Lancs Road as their own success.
But rarely has outright ridicule enjoyed such a prominent place in this long-standing rivalry as it did on Sunday. Mourinho was always going to struggle to come back from that.
Rarely has outright ridicule enjoyed such a prominent place in this long-standing rivalry as it did on Sunday. Mourinho was always going to struggle to come back from that.Richard Sutcliffe
So it proved. By 10am yesterday Manchester United were looking for a new manager.
Even allowing for the decline that has set in since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, Mourinho’s United had plumbed new depths this term after his initial success in winning two trophies – the Europa League and League Cup –in his first season.
Nineteen points separate the Red Devils from Liverpool at the Premier League summit. Even a top-four slot stands 11 points away for a side who have conceded more goals in 17 outings this season than second-bottom Huddersfield Town. Mourinho’s exit, therefore, was no surprise. But he is far from the only problem at Old Trafford with there being a glaring lack of leadership, both on and off the field.
Sure, the money keeps rolling in from ever-growing sponsorships around the globe. But since Ferguson’s choice as successor, David Moyes, failed and arguably the game’s greatest manager took a step back there has been an increasing sense that those making the decisions know a lot more about finance than football.
Appointing three managers with wildly contrasting playing styles in the space of three years was never going to end well.
Nor was failing to move with the times and bring in a sporting director, a role that has been seen as a necessity for every other major club in Europe.
Had such a figure been in place then maybe last summer’s recruitment would not have descended into such a mess that Mourinho returned to the subject time and time again once the campaign was under way, something that only helped to further destabilise an already tilting ship.
What perhaps most did for Mourinho, though, was the lack of leaders in his squad. Think of United under Ferguson and it is Roy Keane cajoling his team-mates by both deeds and words. Or Peter Schmeichel bawling out Steve Bruce or Gary Pallister, while up front Mark Hughes and Eric Cantona led by devilish example.
It says everything about the Manchester United of late 2018 that Antonio Valencia is club captain, while Paul Pogba seems more focused on his latest Instagram post than justifying his immense transfer fee.
Even David De Gea, the club’s one genuine world class talent, prefers to quietly go about his business rather than adopt the vocal style of predecessor Schmeichel.
Solving this vacuum of leadership proved beyond the self-proclaimed Special One. His successor cannot afford to make the same mistake.