It is hard to escape the sense that, for Manchester United fans, the season could end with a whimper rather than a bang. Out of the Champions League after one of the most insipid displays of recent years against one of the poorer teams left in the competition, facing the prospect of Spurs at Wembley in the semi-final of the FA Cup and the horrifyingly real possibility that Manchester City will secure the title with victory against their local rivals.
Perspective is hard to come by, especially at a time like this, but things have not been an unmitigated disaster under Jose Mourinho. It is well-known that certain members of the club’s hierarchy were reluctant to employ the Portuguese because of his habit of exiting jobs amidst a cloud of toxicity. While Sir Alex Ferguson was clearly no saint, he was successful enough to ensure he generally had the last word when it came to critics and doubters. Mourinho, however, might be beginning to feel the heat.
By any objective criteria, the reigns of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were disastrous. Mourinho was brought in to steady the ship and, broadly speaking, he’s done just that. The Old Trafford giants are once again able to attract big name signings, Champions League qualification seems to be becoming par for the course and, of course, there has been silverware to build on Van Gaal’s FA Cup triumph. Expectations, however, are difficult to temper when you’re dealing with a set of supporters who experienced near-constant success for two decades in the not too distant past. For the majority of Ferguson’s reign, many felt the only trophies that were truly worth pursuing were the domestic title and the Champions League. Five years after that manager’s retirement, both feel like pipe dreams and, in the words of “ Bunk” in The Wire, “How far we done fell.”
The question, naturally, becomes whether or not Mourinho is the man for the job or if, like his predecessor, he’s a busted flush whose inspired tactics during the first half of his career now seem outdated. Last year, Europa League success brought with it Champions League qualification and that seemed to be the minimum requirement. This year needed to involve a serious title challenge according to most experts and yet it rarely felt as though United had a sniff. After an astonishing verbal attack on his players after the win over Brighton at the weekend, should this be the end of the road for the specious one?
All things considered, United should probably not part ways with Mourinho. The manner of the exit may have been unforgivable but European glory was always likely to be a long shot this season. Should the manager be replaced, who would come in next? Some are suggesting Mauricio Pochettino but, while he has undoubtedly worked wonders at Spurs, he is still yet to actually win a trophy. More significantly, should United part ways with Mourinho in the summer, we can look forward to another few years of his replacement complaining about the players not being his and urging patience. The football might not be the prettiest at the moment but such a prospect surely doesn’t bear thinking about.