The two crucial goals from Xherdan Shaqiri in Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat of Manchester United may have depended on fortuitous deflections, but Jose Mourinho cannot blame misfortune on his sacking two days after the game. A string of insipid performances and bizarre team selections sealed Mourinho’s fate long before United travelled to Anfield for an expected defeat. With the sacking arriving just a couple of weeks before the January transfer window, Inter’s Luciano Spalletti will be living far more nervously in the knowledge that Mourinho is now a free agent.
Rumours linking Mourinho with a return to Inter were flying even before the Portuguese received his marching orders. Mourinho was of course a different proposition in Italy, guiding the club to an historic treble in the 2009/10 season. Critics would argue that the 2018 Mourinho is a different person, namely a manager who has lost his powers, but it is almost impossible to destroy the prestige and goodwill that comes with winning the Champions League.
Paul Pogba probably has less appreciation than most of Mourinho’s past achievements, with the Frenchman increasingly frozen out at Old Trafford under Mourinho’s management. This fuelled rumours that Pogba would return to Juventus in January, with reports suggesting that the Italian giant had made an impressive £125 million bid.
The Daily Star indicated that United were ready to rebuff Juventus’ overtures in the hope that, if Mourinho were to be dismissed, Pogba would be reinvigorated under a new manager. Just two hours after that report was posted, Mourinho was gone. This is likely to hinder any bids for Pogba until the summer at least, with the midfielder expected to be keen to prove his worth under a new manager. It is fair to say that any new manager is likely to consider Pogba as the side’s most important outfield player, with only Mourinho appearing to hold an opinion to the contrary.
Managing Manchester United is a difficult task, with Manchester City and Liverpool both on a different level this season. Liverpool’s win over United returned them to the Premier League summit, yet the club only remains second favourites with Premier League title odds of 12/5 with Paddy Power. These are two heavyweight sides that even Alex Ferguson’s United would have struggled to match. However, a club with the resources of United should at least be fighting for 3rd rather than 6th.
Zinedine Zidane is a man with more recent Champions League pedigree and was linked to the United job as soon as he left Real Madrid. Pogba would likely be delighted to work under his compatriot, a central midfielder who similarly sparkled at Juventus. Inter may also be delighted to now be able to court Mourinho without the fear of having to pay United for his signature, or without the frustration of waiting until the summer to get their man.
Luciano Spalletti was already on borrowed time after Inter’s failure to secure passage to the Champions League knockout rounds when only needing a home win against PSV, but that time may have been dramatically shortened. Much will depend on how keen Mourinho is to jump straight back into management, but his critics often overlook that his tactics and mind games are products of his prodigious will to win. Pogba will surely stay at Manchester United to await the next manager, but Mourinho could be back in Serie A much sooner than previously anticipated.