Manchester United sacked manager Jose Mourinho on Tuesday after the club’s worst start to a season in nearly three decades.
Mourinho, 55, became increasingly spiky in his last few months at Old Trafford, lashing out at the board’s transfer policy and turning his fire on his squad, especially record signing Paul Pogba.
His constant complaints about the players’ lack of desire had an impact on the pitch, culminating in the 3-1 defeat by Premier League leaders Liverpool on Sunday which left United 19 points behind their opponents.
Mourinho’s sacking comes just two-and-a-half years into his tenure and three years and a day since Chelsea sacked him just months after he had guided them to the title.
Reports said United will name a caretaker manager in the next 48 hours.
The club’s worst start in the league since 1990 means even Mourinho’s ambition of finishing in the top four and a Champions League qualification spot is in danger.
Despite United reaching the Champions League knockout stages, where they face an intimidating last-16 tie with Paris Saint-Germain, a combination of poor results, dressing-room discord and criticism of the board proved potent factors in the decision to dismiss the Portuguese manager.
A United source told AFP that Mourinho had been supported in his efforts to sign players and described reports of player power at the club as being key to the sacking as wide of the mark.
United will reportedly have to pay Mourinho £22.5 million ($28.5 million) — as the club are still in the Champions League — to sever the ties.
“Manchester United announces that manager Jose Mourinho has left the club with immediate effect,” a club statement said.
“The club would like to thank Jose for his work during his time at Manchester United and to wish him success in the future.
“A new caretaker manager will be appointed until the end of the current season, while the club conducts a thorough recruitment process for a new, full-time manager.”
– ‘Outstanding candidate’ –
In the longer term former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has been linked to the club as has his fellow 1998 World Cup-winning team-mate Laurent Blanc, who played for United. Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino is also strongly tipped.
One bookmaker makes Pochettino the early favourite and the 46-year-old Argentinian is also former Manchester United midfielder Gary Neville’s favoured option.
“They need someone who meets the three key principles of that football club: the promotion of youth, entertaining football and to win football matches,” Neville told Sky Sports News.
“People suggest he (Pochettino) hasn’t won a trophy yet at Tottenham but with a net spend of minus £29 million or something over the last four years, I’m not sure he could have done more.
“I do think he is the person who is the outstanding candidate.”
Mourinho’s reign had started well enough with the League Cup and the Europa League trophies but for a club that has been champions of England 20 times, neighbours Manchester City’s dominance over them in the league has hurt.
The wound went even deeper for Mourinho as City are managed by Pep Guardiola, who got the better of him when he was in charge at Barcelona and Mourinho was at Real Madrid.
Despite his protestations to the contrary, the United board gave Mourinho plenty of money to compete.
Top-quality players such as Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku — who he persuaded to snub Chelsea and come to United for £75 million in 2017 — and Pogba for a then world record fee of £89 million in 2016 have floundered under his authoritarian stewardship.
Indeed it was his deteriorating relationship with World Cup-winning midfielder Pogba — one of many to feel the lash of his tongue in public — that symbolised the decline at the club under him.
Mourinho questioned his attitude while the player hit back with open criticism of the tactics, culminating in him kicking his heels on the bench during the Liverpool debacle on Sunday.
The manager’s overall Premier League points haul of 176 since his appointment by United lagged behind City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea during the same period.
Patrice Evra, who made over 350 appearances for United, expressed his annoyance at the focus on the Pogba-Mourinho saga.
“Let’s focus on rebuilding something solid instead of being in a playground. Doing this is only disrespecting the badge, from now we only need positivity,” the Frenchman tweeted.