Jose Mourinho sacking hints Alex Ferguson is back in power at Manchester United as his disciple Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes the reins
- Club hierarchy appear to be heeding legendary manager’s advice again
- Power brokers must realise United have drifted from his philosophy
With one damning glare and a shake of the head from Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho was as good as gone as Manchester United manager.
Up in the stands at Anfield as Liverpool inflicted a comprehensive 3-1 mauling on United last Sunday, Ferguson’s bemused look after Xherdan Shaqiri’s second goal did not escape the attention of the television cameras, or fans on social media.
It may have taken another two days to become official, but Mourinho’s reign bit the dust then and there, with United now 19 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League leaders.
Ferguson had watched alongside David Gill, the club’s former chief executive, as United – the club they made into an all-conquering juggernaut – were outfought, outthought and outplayed in an act of meek surrender.
Fergie watching on at Anfield pic.twitter.com/luRNgnadwm
— manutdxtra (@manutdxtra) December 16, 2018
The two were spotted deep in conversation, as were club director Bobby Charlton and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Mourinho’s absence from the FA Youth Cup win against Chelsea on Monday, which was attended by several high-profiles figure at United including Woodward, was telling.
The Portuguese had gone down to London to see his family, as he did many times during his two-and-a-half-year stay at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester.
Perhaps even more telling was the sight of Woodward leaving at half-time of that 4-3 win – something was clearly afoot, and Mourinho was sacked the following morning.
In comes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – the club legend who scored the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final that clinched the treble for Ferguson – as caretaker manager.
Alongside Solskjaer will be Ferguson’s former assistant Mike Phelan, and the Scot now seems to be back in favour as a power broker at Old Trafford.
Woodward and the club’s owners, the Glazer family, reportedly froze Ferguson out of the decision-making process in 2014, after his recommendation to hire David Moyes as his successor proved disastrous.
Former Everton manager Moyes was fired nine months into a six-year contract, with “Class of 92” disciple Ryan Giggs installed as caretaker manager for the final four games of the season.
But Ferguson’s advice to give Giggs the job permanently was not heeded by Woodward and the Glazers. Instead they opted for experience in Louis van Gaal, with Giggs as his assistant.
That went south too, so they turned to Mourinho, again reportedly ignoring the warnings of Ferguson and Charlton.
Woodward was seemingly intent to stamp his own authority on the club, where Ferguson’s shadow still looms so large after winning 38 trophies in 26 glorious seasons.
The club’s former commercial director has brought in hundreds of millions in lucrative sponsorship deals, but squandered just as much on average players in a role he seems ill-suited to since Gill departed in 2013.
Now with Mourinho overseeing the club’s worst start to a season in 28 years, Woodward and the Glazers appear ready to bring Ferguson back into the inner circle.
Woodward perhaps has no choice – Solskjaer is the fifth managerial appointment he has made since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
He will take his time in appointing the sixth next summer, unless Solskjaer – who is “on loan” from his Norwegian club Molde – proves wildly successful.
His disastrous spell in charge of Cardiff aside, Solskjaer previously enjoyed success in charge of United’s reserves, where he coached current stars Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba – with whom Mourinho so spectacularly fell out.
That connection to promoting youth is key and if the evidence of Monday’s Youth Cup win is anything to go by, United have another good batch coming through.
Mason Greenwood starred with a hat-trick, and many at the club believe he could spearhead a new generation of young stars.
Greenwood and James Garner were on the bench for Mourinho’s penultimate game in charge, the 2-1 defeat at Valencia in the Champions League.
It seems Woodward finally realises the club has drifted too far away from the values and ethos that Ferguson embodied – namely attacking football, and a trust in youth, something first instilled by Matt Busby.
Gill and Ferguson are on the board of directors, and Gill was reportedly at Carrington for meetings on Tuesday afternoon following Mourinho’s sacking.
Ferguson will be less proactive – he has only recently returned to attending matches, after spending four months in recovery from brain surgery in May.
But four and a half years on from being snubbed in the process finding Moyes’ replacement, Ferguson now has a conduit at the club again with Solskjaer and Phelan.
Solskjaer has tried to emulate the Scot in the way he approaches management, and was touted by Ferguson as one of the most likely to succeed on the touchline.
That will keep Ferguson at the table a little while longer, until Mauricio Pochettino can be prised away from Tottenham.
The Argentine is said to be the man in the frame to take over long-term, and is a huge admirer of Ferguson.
That admiration goes both ways. “This lad has composure,” Ferguson said of Pochettino. “You never see him ruffled. And the most important thing is how many English and young players are in his team. He understands the advantage of playing young people.”
After a few years out in the wilderness, it seems Ferguson is ready to insert himself back into the fold – and it is probably the best thing for all involved.