No way, José: Brits rejoice as Mourinho gets the boot
The mediocre, and very expensive, manager has finally gone, but it is too late to stop the rot at Manchester United?
There was no Brexit. There was no Trump. There was no Putin. There was no Syria. There was no Yemen. There was no Christmas. Even the weather didn’t exist.
All that did exist in the world as England saw it, and all the English could talk about, on every street corner and on every platform, was a short, grey, pouty, smouldering fencepost of failure. “Yes! He’s gone! Thank God! Did you see the Liverpool game? How miserable he looked?”
“Not everyone’s a Man United fan, and there are an awful lot of people laffing today.”
Manchester United had sacked José Mourinho. Nothing else mattered nearly as much for hours after the news crashed to Earth.
It followed a night of rain that left London’s streets as shiny and black as the eyes in Mourinho’s ticking head as he stood trapped on Old Trafford’s touchline. Or were the streets soaked in the impact of the giddy truth of his going?
The probability had buzzed waspishly around the papers for months, but confirmation came too late to make Tuesday’s editions. But you knew this was serious, or being taken seriously, when the story rose to the very top of the agenda on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Today is where the British go to reaffirm their Britishness, where politicians of every stripe are hauled in and grilled for long, tortured minutes by broadcasters who bristle with tenaciousness and ever sharper questions, where the most pressing issues are dismantled and demystified for all to understand. It is radio at its finest.
There Today was, talking football. And how we needed them to, what with the vast nothingness of social media astink with the smell of napalm in the morning and not a lot else. Among the twittering classes you could have had any colour of opinion on the matter you wanted as long as it was factless.
You want facts? We’ve got facts …
When Mourinho was fired United were in sixth place, or comfortably in the top half of the table with more than half the season still to be played. Half the field of 20 had fewer victories. Only a quarter had more.
But that wasn’t good enough for so bumptious a club. What mattered was that seven wins in 17 games represented their worst start to a season in 28 years.
United will pay Mourinho perhaps as much as the equivalent of R325m to be rid of him. His two previous departures from Chelsea reportedly earned him more than R496m. In the obscenely unreal world of elite football it pays to get the boot.
Mourinho spent all 895 days of his United tenure booked into the Lowry Hotel’s Riverside Suite, which costs R14,443 a night. That adds up to R12,926,485 not counting his extras, which promise to be considerable in a joint where a “Talk Tonight” cocktail (gin, Grand Marnier, marmalade, egg white, lemon juice) will set you back R290. What United spent just on putting a roof over Mourinho’s head was a relatively marginal R55,915 less than what the Delhi Capitals will pay Colin Ingram, before tax, to play in next year’s Indian Premier League. Or not quite 200 dops of “Talk Tonight”.
United’s perceived poor form had cost the club a billion dollars (R14,266,650,00) on the New York Stock Exchange since August, or almost a third of its total value at the beginning of the campaign. Tuesday’s news saw the share price jolt upward by almost 6% (R2,140m) in a matter of hours.
That Mourinho fell out with his players was hardly surprising considering he imposed on them a conservative style of play and then criticised them when things went badly. One of the most prominent of those players, Paul Pogba, hastily deleted his own empty-headed social media post on his now former manager’s fate. That Mourinho ever got along with Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chair, who fired him during a meeting that lasted 44 minutes, is difficult to believe. One of them is a fiery football fandango, the other a retreaded accountant and investment banker, a dreaded suit.
There weren’t many of those around in the Kings Park press box on July 15 2006, where I was to report on Orlando Pirates’ Vodacom Challenge match against Manchester United.
No less a nice man than Bobby Charlton, all five-foot-eight of him, was on hand to smile his way through another afternoon in what appeared to be the most charmed life yet lived. Surviving a plane crash, as Charlton did in Munich in 1958 – when 23 of the 38 passengers did not – must give you that kind of grace.
United won 4-0 with Ole Gunnar Solskjær scoring in the fourth and the 43rd minutes. His goals were, like almost all the 91 he scored in his 235 Premier League appearances, keyhole surgeries that left little trace in the memory.
At a press conference attended mostly by the fat-arsed, gum-chewing, mumbling slobs of the English tabloid press, Alex Ferguson spoke a long-dead language backwards through a balaclava while under water. Apparently, everybody from Glasgow talks like that.
Still, you didn’t need a degree in dead languages to know Ferguson hated having to lower himself to breathe the same air as the likes of us. He and the tabloid hacks ranged across from him deserved each other. But, unpleasant though the man was, he knew how to win football games: 528 victories in 810 matches in the Premier League, and just 114 losses. He was named manager of the month 27 times and of the season 11 times.
Ferguson walked away from all that five years ago, taking with him two Champions League triumphs, 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cup victories, and one each in the European Cup Winners Cup, European Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup, and the Club World Cup.
Since then David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho have come, seen and been conquered by Ferguson’s shadow. Their overall winning percentages with the club – 52.94, 52.43 and 58.33 – are in the same ballpark as the great Scot’s 59.67. But they aren’t Ferguson in any discernible sense.
Now Solskjær has been appointed in a caretaker capacity until the end of the season. He has won 143 of his 271 games in charge of Molde, the club he played for in his native Norway before joining United, and Cardiff City. That’s a winning percentage of 52.77.
It’s his 2014 stint with the latter that will stick in the coddled and curdled minds of many fans. Solskjær lasted 259 days and won only nine of his 30 games, and the Welsh minnows were relegated.
Might one of football’s most famously followed – and despised – jerseys follow that route into the bin of history?
“It is a rotten club from top to bottom,” Patrick Barclay said of United on Wednesday.
As a veteran football journalist, mostly for the proper papers, and the author of biographies of Ferguson and Mourinho, he should know.
Now we do, too. Thanks to Radio 4.