Boos rang out as Jose Mourinho headed towards the tunnel after Manchester United’s arguably worst night in European football. Sevilla are placed sixth in the current La Liga standings with 45 points from 28 matches and a goal difference of -6. Mourinho’s United lost to them on home patch and knocked themselves out of this season’s Champions League. Leicester City had beaten Sevilla in the Champions League Round of 16 tie last term. United proved to be a lame duck.
The manner of their defeat was an insult to the club’s glorious past—the Flowers of Manchester who died in Munich on February 6, 1958, en route home after winning a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade. In fact, everything that United stand for had been torn asunder on that dreadful night at Old Trafford during United’s shock capitulation. Mourinho’s approach was an affront to the very foundation of the club, built by Sir Matt Busby and rebuilt by Sir Alex Ferguson. The two great men taught United to be fearless on the pitch. Mourinho, with his negative approach, invited a gnawing fear of failure among the players.
After the humiliation, a groveling apology to the fans was due. Mourinho, a prisoner of his vanity, tried to brush aside the failure instead. “That’s not the end of the world. I sit in this chair twice in the Champions League and I knocked Man United out at home at Old Trafford,” Mourinho said at the post-match press conference, adding: “I’ve sat in this chair with Porto, Man United out. I’ve sat in this chair with Real Madrid, Man United out. So it’s not something new for the club and of course being Manchester United manager and losing a Champions League tie at home is a disappointment, obviously.”
Unbelievable! And very rightly, to many United supporters, the manager’s post-match comment topped David Moyes’ statement four years ago, when the former United boss had said his club should aspire to be Manchester City-like. By the way, the two occasions Mourinho spoke about, his teams rode on referees’ assistance to eliminate United. In 2004, a scandalously disallowed Paul Scholes goal gave Porto a 3-2 win on aggregate. In 2013, Mourinho’s Real Madrid snatched victory from the jaws of defeat only after the Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir, inexplicably red-carded Nani.
Mourinho has long lost his Champions League mojo. He last managed a club to victory at the knockout stages of this competition four years ago. And at the moment it seems like the fans are picking better starting XIs than the manager. United came to the Sevilla game on the heel of three successive wins in the Premier League; against Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Liverpool. They were expected to be oozing intimidation. Mourinho made them feeble with his team selection. He picked Marouane Fellaini at the expense of Juan Mata. The latter had been pivotal in United’s three wins on the bounce in the league. His hold-up play and mastery with the ball against Liverpool was world-class, which allowed Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford enough free space in the final third. Rashford scored two excellent goals against United’s arch-rivals. Mourinho promptly put him out of position on the right against Sevilla to accommodate Alexis Sanchez on his favoured left wing.
Sanchez arrived from Arsenal during the January transfer window. United had gazumped the deal from right under the nose of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. The striker, at £350,000-a-week, announced his arrival, playing ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’ on a piano. About a couple of months down the line, it has proved to be a meaningless signing for United. Mourinho is accommodating Sanchez at the expense of Rashford and Anthony Martial, the two brightest stars in the United forward line. The Chilean is seemingly getting a favourable treatment from his manager despite his poor performance on the pitch. No one loses the ball more than Sanchez during the course of a 90-minute game. In 10 matches for his new club so far, he has scored just one goal and provided two assists.
It felt like Mourinho deliberately moved Rashford to the right wing to settle a score with the fans; those who disapproved the youngster’s substitution against Liverpool. He is neglecting Luke Shaw as well, another fan favourite. When Shaw is left out of the squad in a Champions League win-or-bust fixture and Matteo Darmian makes the bench, then you know the manager is edging closer to the trapdoor.
The ‘Mourinho fan club’ still speaks about the progress the team has made this term, citing their No. 2 position in the league table and some home wins against United’s ‘big six’ rivals. United are 16 points off City, with only eight matches remaining. They are out of the Champions League, losing to a Sevilla. They only have the FA Cup to play for. Mourinho has spent close to £300 million over four transfer windows for squad reinforcements. Progress, rubbish! At United, progress is defined by winning serious trophies, not second-grade silverware.
The ‘Mourinho fan club’ also revels in deriding the club executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward at every possible opportunity. Woodward, however, has done brilliantly this term. He gave the manager Lukaku, Sanchez and Nemanja Matic, staving off tough competition from the rivals. What more he could have done? Ferguson won three League titles in his last five years as the manager, spending £71 million. So management is a lot more than just pouring cash into the squad. Woodward would be well within his rights not to sanction a single penny in the summer. Opening the cheque book to an outdated manager, assisted by his archaic coaching staff, is money down the drain.
“Everything, everything (at Manchester United) has to change,” Mourinho said after the Sevilla defeat. It should start with the manager.