Dubai: The powers that be have finally decided enough is enough and brought an end to Jose Mourinho’s tumultuous time at Manchester United.
Neutral football fans the world over will be sad to see him go — no more bizarre press conference rants from the “I can do no wrong” Portuguese character. Not-so-neutral fans will be sorrier to see him go as he has overseen United’s worst run in the league for 28 years and witnessed them lurch from one crisis to the next.
Diehard United fans will most likely be breathing a sigh of relief as their time in the laughing-stock spotlight comes to an end.
Or does it?
Mourinho has departed after two-and-a-half years in charge following a dismal start to the season. United are sixth in the table with 26 points from 17 matches, 19 (nineteen!) points behind leaders Liverpool.
It seems Sunday’s 3-1 humiliation by their arch-rivals at Anfield was the straw that broke the Red Devil’s back. They were outclassed in every department, had a record 36 shots against them and star-man-turned-Mourinho-scapegoat Paul Pogba did not even get off the bench.
“Manchester United announces that manager Jose Mourinho has left the club with immediate effect,” United said in a statement.
“United 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.”
For all the politics and well-publicised infighting between Mourinho, a host of players including Pogba, and Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman and right-hand man to the Glazer family, United’s owners, it is clear Mourinho had to go.
With the relief that comes with a line finally being drawn under the debacle of the past two years, things are not immediately all sunshine and roses, however.
It is clear that the problem is not Mourinho alone. Pogba took to Twitter and Instagram after the announcement on Tuesday with a photo of him posing with a wry smile and the line “Caption this”, before swiftly deleting the post.
That is not the attitude any incoming manager will embrace. Wholesale changes throughout the squad need to be made, and that — on top of Mourinho’s payout — will cost millions of pounds and no little time to put in place.
And who is the man United will bring in to oversee these drastic changes? With most of the top coaches tied down to long-term projects or with direct Premier League opposition, this will be no easy task, and it’s clear why Woodward will appoint a caretaker until the end of the season as United ensure they get the right man.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino is the hot favourite to take over with the bookies as he is young, aspiring and has been seen as a long-term target for United because of his preference for attacking football and nurturing talent.
Former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, who led the Spanish side to three successive Champions League titles, is also in the frame but he inherited a team of superstars and is relatively untested at a top team in turmoil.
Former United midfielder Michael Carrick and former Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim are also on the shortlist, but seem unlikely to get the call.
Regardless of what Twitter tells you, it will not be Arsene Wenger, the recently-departed Arsenal coach.
Former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is looking for work, but that move could be perceived as following a similar path as the one taken with Mourinho and not the clean break many yearn for, given that the Italian previously succeeded Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. Pochettino looks the most logical move, but it depends on how deep the Glazers’ pockets are as he signed a new five-year deal at Spurs earlier this year and United will need to push the boat out further than Captain Cook to get their man.
Oh, and Pochettino might not want the job. Only last week he spoke about how happy he is at Spurs and looking forward to leading them into their new stadium next year.
Diego Simeone, currently at Atletico Madrid, would be a similarly expensive acquisition, while Marcelo Gallardo, who just won the Copa Libertadores with Argentine side River Plate and has been touted for a big move, would be a rookie in Europe.
Whatever decision the suits at Old Trafford make, it will have to be the right one if they are to regain their spot at football’s top table.
And what next for poor old Jose? Sure, some team will pick him up, he will have a great first season ... and then, no one knows. He has won many trophies as a coach over the years, including the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan, but his stature as “the Special One” has taken a beating in recent years and I’m not sure Mourinho’s Europa League and League Cup in the 2016-17 season with United will be pride of place when he eventually looks back on his managerial career.