Jose Mourinho sacked: Is former Man Utd boss finished at top level?

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho's relationship with United midfielder Paul Pogba has not always been smooth

Jose Mourinho's managerial career stands at the crossroads after his sacking by Manchester United - but is the 'Special One' now yesterday's man?

Mourinho can take his place as one of management's greats after winning the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan, and enjoying silver-lined spells in charge of Chelsea, Real Madrid and United.

But are Mourinho's colourful and controversial glory days as one of the game's elite coaches now over?

Is Mourinho a man out of his time?

Mourinho's time at Old Trafford was heavily laced with accusations the modern game - in the shape of managers such as Manchester City's Pep Guardiola, and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool - had left the 55-year-old Portuguese behind.

And games in opposition to Guardiola and Klopp that are fresh in the memory intensify the image Mourinho, once the trailblazer, is light years behind the modernisers.

Guardiola's City outclassed their neighbours two months ago, and it was symbolic that the sight of United cowering as Klopp's Liverpool blew them away at Anfield on Sunday was the final straw.

The intense, attacking, easy-on-the-eye approaches of Guardiola, Klopp, and Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, have been used as sticks to beat what is regarded as Mourinho's more pragmatic strategy.

In Mourinho's defence, it should be stated he won more trophies in his first season at United (the League Cup and the Europa League) than Klopp or Pochettino have in their whole time at Liverpool and Spurs - indeed they are still waiting for their first trophies in England.

Football's landscape moves swiftly, however, and while that trio are fresh and innovative, Mourinho has cut a tired, careworn, negative figure out of touch with their vibrant approach.

So is it fair to say he is now yesterday's man?

Mark Schwarzer joined Chelsea a month after Mourinho returned for his second spell in 2013 and spent two years working under him, during which they won the Premier League.

The former Australia goalkeeper told BBC Sport: "Yesterday's man? Not at all. He is still very relevant no matter what has happened at United, and his methods are modern in his training and approach to tactics.

"People talk about his style compared to the likes of Klopp and Guardiola but everyone has a different interpretation on how football should be played. If everyone played the same way as Klopp or Guardiola's teams I think it would be pretty boring after a while with everyone doing the same thing.

"This is what makes football so appealing. There is such a variety of styles, and just because one manager employs a different style to another doesn't make them outdated or yesterday's man."

That support is in contrast to some players under his charge in recent years who, while privately accepting he always had a plan and was tactically meticulous, often felt he leaned too heavily towards the defensive aspects.

Schwarzer added: "You can argue all day long, and if you are one of those people in the camp who say the way the modern game is going it is all about the way Manchester City and Liverpool play then they might say he is past it and his methods are old.

'Something had to give' - Shearer Q&A on Mourinho sacking

"I don't agree. I am a firm believer there are a variety of ways you can play football. Yes, one is more appealing on the eye than the other but ultimately it is about delivering results, performances and trophies.

"This is how you are judged and he has won trophies everywhere he has been, including Manchester United."

South African striker Benni McCarthy, who played in Mourinho's Porto team that won the Champions League in 2004, agrees.

He told BBC Sport: "I don't think you become outdated all of a sudden. I just think it is down to the players not applying what the manager's expecting from them.

"Mourinho is still one of the best in the world. He has not become a bad manager overnight."

Can Mourinho no longer handle big stars?

The narrative surrounding Mourinho's decline at both Chelsea and United has involved friction - and often friction with star players.

Michael Emenalo, Chelsea's technical director when Mourinho was sacked in December 2015, lifted the lid on problems behind the scenes when he said: "There obviously seemed to be a palpable discord between manager and players and we felt it was time to act."

Mourinho's dealings with Chelsea forward Eden Hazard were often seen as one of the difficulties there, and the manager's relationship with midfielder Paul Pogba has provided a constant backdrop to the unrest at Old Trafford.

The sight of Mourinho's £89m marquee signing sitting forlornly behind him at Anfield - unused and seemingly not to be trusted in the sort of game that shapes United's great players - could almost be used as an image to illustrate the manager's downfall.

It is believed Mourinho's relationship with Hazard collapsed during his third season at Stamford Bridge after Chelsea regained the Premier League title - the Belgian's sunny, humble nature at odds with the 'win-at-all-costs' pragmatism of his manager, who was prepared to - as one insider put it - "get nasty" to get results.

The big-stick approach was never designed to get the best out of Hazard and it was a relationship that deteriorated, though the pair have since spoken warmly about each other, the Belgian actually suggesting he could work under Mourinho again.

Those who have worked with Mourinho talk about his demanding, challenging style - but a major bone of contention behind the scenes was his willingness to play out drama in his news conferences.

Mourinho has been conducting almost a weekly narrative of discontent about life at Old Trafford since the summer and, as at other clubs, it has eventually worn everyone down, including even the manager himself.

It is also understood his "us against the world" siege mentality did not always play to a unanimously appreciative dressing-room audience.

Mourinho's troubles with Pogba were even more toxic and puzzling given he insisted on the gifted midfielder returning to Old Trafford on his appointment in summer 2016, even though he had left United for Juventus for only £1.5m four years earlier when his contract expired.

Yet others inside a Mourinho dressing room accepted his demanding nature, and also speak about his supportive side.

Schwarzer said: "Working with him was demanding but at that level I didn't expect anything else. The pressure and demands were on everyone and the expectation was from everyone - the club, hierarchy, supporters, players and manager.

"I expected him to be demanding and he was, and clearly at United the same applied.

"There was an expectation to deliver a certain standard. This was the overwhelming sensation from the moment I arrived."

Jose Mourinho: How Manchester United manager's season collapsed

Will Mourinho work at elite level again?

Mourinho's direct style has led to tensions throughout his career, and this led to a familiar manner of departure, particularly mirroring his sacking at Chelsea three years ago - almost to the day.

Will another acrimonious end mean the big clubs shy away from Mourinho and go for younger coaches who are perceived to possess more up-to-date methods?

Schwarzer gave an insight into his methods when he said: "At Chelsea we had a dressing room full of world-class players. We had Ashley Cole, John Terry, Petr Cech, Cesar Azpilicueta, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill... Cesc Fabregas was brought in by Jose.

"These guys wanted to be pushed. They could handle the manager being upset, being very, very direct in his criticisms and demands.

"As a player no-one likes to be told, no-one likes to be shouted at or made an example of in front of people but I never felt the manager was doing it in a vindictive way.

"He would pick on people but he would pick on them for a specific reason. He did it because he wanted to show people no-one was exempt from criticism. Just because you're a big name doesn't mean you can't be told you've done something wrong.

"Too often I have been at clubs where managers have danced around that and were too afraid to tell the big-name player they'd not been good enough or they weren't putting that work in, that their level of performance wasn't enough.

"Very rarely did a manager have the bottle to say it, whereas Jose was never afraid to say it no matter who they were."

Mourinho's abrasive style has led to repeated patterns of brushes with authority, clashes with players, and eventually his departure from clubs he has elevated to success, often after long barren years - he delivered Chelsea's first league title in 50 years and Inter Milan's first European Cup for 45 years.

It has also led to the accumulation of tensions that have made Mourinho's departure necessary - just as it has at United.

So is there still a place for this confrontational, challenging style, or will he need to acquire a measure of reinvention when he emerges again?

Mourinho's hardline approach is, publicly at least, a contrast to the arm-around-the-shoulder, animated approaches of Guardiola and Klopp - but make no mistake they are just as ruthless when it comes to hugging players right out of the door.

Schwarzer speaks again of a man who is not out of his time in the modern game but a results-driven individual who could also be in tune with the game's modern nuances, a manager with more to his approach than confrontation.

He said: "His moods were determined by performances and results. Generally, at Chelsea, we had far more better results than bad and he was someone who was always generally in a pretty good mood and was approachable.

"Obviously if you lost he wasn't used to it and he showed it. It was hard and you didn't get in his way or do anything to antagonise him. You had to show it hurt you as much as it hurt him.

"But if you give him everything, if you deliver, work hard and do everything you possibly can, you know your place and you back him and show it by performances and application he will back you.

"There is no way he will have a problem with you. In fact he will admire you even more."

McCarthy believes he may need to make an adjustment: "Maybe just understanding the new generation of players. When you come with superstar status maybe you need to loosen up a little and manage the players accordingly.

"Say with Hazard or Pogba, you maybe can't ask them to work their socks off because they need to use their energy to drive the team forward, to use their skills to produce that little bit of magic they have that others don't have.

"Mourinho is demanding of them that they work equally as hard as your so-called 'normal' players.

"You want them to work hard but you also need them to produce their best football and sometimes you have to make exceptions for those special, talented players that you have to let them be free so maybe that part of his style he can adjust to the modern-day coaching."

Mourinho has had so much success he may feel no need to alter the style that has brought him trophies - but will he ever again get a club of the stature he has enjoyed at the likes of Chelsea, Inter, Real and United?

Zidane, Simeone, Pochettino? Who could replace Jose Mourinho?


Join the conversation

These comments are now closed.