Raphael Honigstein appeared on the Second Captains podcast on 23 August praising Bayern Munich for having acted quickly in firing Carlo Ancelotti last season, when it was obvious that the team were not going to succeed with the Italian at the helm. Honigstein saw it as the proactive, positive move which was needed to kick start, and ultimately save, Bayern Munich’s season. A similar level of proactiveness is needed now in Manchester, with the Red Devils struggling, rudderless and drowning. Manchester United succumbed to a 3-1 loss away to West Ham at the weekend and the irony was not lost that Manchester United were beaten by a team who had sacked David Moyes only four months earlier.
The mention of Moyes is timely as it may grant some background to the situation. Moyes’ firing at United in 2014 was handled pathetically, with the media widely reporting his sacking on the Sunday following a loss to Everton, but Moyes himself officially kept in the dark until the Monday. Similarly, Louis Van Gaal was asked by journalists at the FA Cup Final in 2016 about his impending dismissal, despite having just lifted the trophy. Moyes, and certainly Van Gaal, should both have been sacked sooner and while Woodward was no doubt attempting to give his managers opportunities to right their wrongs, both seasons were allowed to fall deep into mediocrity before the Manchester United superiors took the necessary action.
This does not need to be the case this year. Were Ed Woodward and Richard Arnold to act decisively now, this season could be salvaged. The odds were already against José Mourinho this summer, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all having stolen a march upon his United team. This is more reasoning as to why Mourinho should now be axed. Liverpool have been allowed to leapfrog United under Mourinho’s watch. What Woodward and the board need to realise now is that proactive measures in early October can mean that United will still succeed in 2019.
A new manager coming in in October could ensure that United still play Champions League football next year while the Paul Pogba debacle could be solved with David De Gea hopefully signing a new deal. A new manager joining the club in October would also have ample opportunity to assess his squad, given that large amounts of the playing staff are out of contract next summer.
Ed Woodward might best consult the history books. Chelsea sacked Mourinho in September 2007 and still finished 2nd in Premier League while runners up in League Cup and Champions League (to United at that; football heritage, José). What’s more, there is grounds for optimism in the seasons ahead. Mourinho left Real Madrid in May 2013. Real finished 3rd in La Liga the next season but won the Champions League numerous times in the coming seasons. Chelsea sacked Mourinho in December 2015, finished 10th but won Premier League the next season.
History might suggest that Woodward will not be proactive. United seem to have been unaware of how best to proceed following the sackings of Moyes and Van Gaal. Had Woodward been more adventurous in December 2015, especially following the Boxing Day defeat to Stoke when it was clear Van Gaal’s reign was struggling, the likes of Pep Guardiola could have been brought to the real dynasty in Manchester, and not had to settle for the noisy neighbours.
Guardiola has managed FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City. City are the odd ones out in that excellent managerial CV and there is no question that Guardiola would have preferred adding Manchester United to his resume were Woodward more ruthless in the winter of 2015 when it was known that Guardiola was leaving Munich.
This season, Manchester United beat Leicester before having two bad results against Brighton and Spurs. They then beat Burnley and Watford only now to be back with three bad results against Wolves, Derby and West Ham. Are United going to keep repeating this never-ending pattern all season? Are fans now wondering that if United beat Valencia on Tuesday night, that Mourinho will have earned a reprieve allowing for bad results to come against Newcastle, Chelsea and Juventus?
Manchester United became the most successful brand in sport last month, with share prices reaching an all-time high. This has occurred under José Mourinho’s watch. Having said that, Ed Woodward has previously stated that Manchester United are so financially robust that results on the field don’t necessarily matter. But they do matter, Ed. They matter to the fans who travel to Old Trafford every week. They matter to the millions of fans hurting after consecutive bad results against Wolves, Derby and West Ham.
The fact that Manchester United could not muster enough attacking power to defeat Derby on Tuesday night is indictment enough of Mourinho. That Mourinho would lose to one of his greatest ever players, Frank Lampard, who now manages a team playing expansive attacking football that looks nothing like that ever produced under Mourinho, is indictment enough.
The José Mourinho experiment at Manchester United has not worked, or to give the Portuguese some credit, it has stopped working. We have known this for a while. Since the summer transfer wrangling played out in public between Mourinho and Woodward, with Woodward taking the extraordinary step of briefing journalists as to why the club didn’t back Mourinho, it was clear that this was not going to work.
The season is still salvageable. Manchester United still possess fantastic players, but the conditions at Carrington are not facilitating a winning team. Woodward should now do everything in his power to right this situation, and put United in a position whereby they can start next season in a strong position and look to start bridging that gap which has emerged under Mourinho’s watch.
This is now three managers who have now failed under Woodward, and he should be concerned that the next person to be sacked might not be the manager.