It seems that away at winless Burnley on Sunday, Mourinho’s job is on the line. If it isn’t a lost cause already, but for the hiring of a replacement. Just last January Mourinho extended his contract through next season, with an option for another year. It wasn’t a hugely long commitment, but nevertheless a vote of confidence.
That was then.
Now, in the apparent final days of Mourinho’s time at United, there’s a broadly held theory that time passed him by. That, like Arsene Wenger in his last years at Arsenal, his tactics and methods just became less and less effective, until it all just didn’t work anymore.
There’s something to be said for that. Or maybe time didn’t pass him by entirely, but simply caught up with him. For years with Chelsea, with Inter Milan, with Real Madrid and with Chelsea again, briefly, Mourinho thrived because he knew how to set up an impenetrable defense and a counter-attack quicker than a mouse-trap. And that set him apart in an age besotted by possession. Everybody else’s preoccupation with having the ball enabled Mourinho as a contrarian tactician. But today most of the major teams play on the counter, eroding his edge.
In the same way Mourinho was the larger-than-life manager before that were a half dozen of those. His brashness and arrogance and preening persona made him a cult figure. But then Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola became a demigod and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp charmed every camera he faced. Mauricio Pochettino’s steady personality and careful shaping of Spurs have made him a quiet hero. Chelsea’s journeyman Maurizio Sarri enchants with his backstory of impossible ascent and sumptuous soccer. Even Leeds United’s Marcelo Bielsa holds the soccer world in his thrall for his unpredictability and luscious playing style. Meanwhile, an increasingly bitter and cranky Mourinho slowly lost his aura of invincibility and specialness.
The latter-day Mourinho is a caricature of his old self.