After decades of being the biggest fish in the English soccer pond, United had just about come to terms with the fact that the endless funds behind Chelsea and then Manchester City had enabled them to displace United in terms of spending power and trophy accumulation, Reuters reported.
But when Liverpool, in whose shadow United labored for so long before Sir Alex Ferguson finally and emphatically “knocked them off their perch”, brushed it aside on Sunday to emphasize that it is now operating at a totally different level, it was the end of the line for Mourinho.
“Manchester United announces that manager Jose Mourinho has left the club with immediate effect,” the 20-time English title winner said in a brief statement.
That followed Sunday’s 3-1 defeat that left United 19 points behind Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool side in sixth place and 11 points off the Champions League places.
This is United’s worst start to a league season in 28 years and the 29 goals it has conceded is its worst at this stage of a season for 56 years.
For the current crop of United fans and officials who gorged on success during Ferguson’s 26-year reign that is just not acceptable.
Mourinho will point to the fact that he won the Europa League and the League Cup in the 2016-17 season before guiding United to second in the league last season and a place in the FA Cup final where it was beaten by Chelsea.
But he was brought in to restore the club to greatness after first David Moyes and then Dutchman Louis van Gaal struggled to step out of Ferguson’s shadow.
He has failed miserably to do that, though with every passing defeat he found new ways to blame the players while still reminding his critics of his previous successes at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
If he had failed while trying to win with United’s customary panache he may have survived a little longer but his ever-more-negative approach alienated fans and former players alike.
While City, Liverpool and even Tottenham Hotspur have been thrilling fans with their swashbuckling approach, Mourinho has become the arch proponent of “parking the bus” — a phrase he introduced to English football’s lexicon when complaining about opponents packing their defenses to foil his exciting Chelsea team.
His fallout with £90-million French midfielder Paul Pogba summed up his failure.
Good enough to inspire France to win the World Cup this summer, Pogba has spent the last two weeks sitting on the bench while the coach opted for the sturdier qualities of the likes of Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini.
Those selections and his limited tactical approach brought a tsunami of frustrated criticism from former players-turned-pundits and it eventually became a question of when, rather than if, he would go.
United said it will appoint a caretaker manager within 48 hours while it presumably tries to earn time to prize a big-name manager away from his current role.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino emerged on Tuesday as hot favorite to succeed Mourinho.
Pochettino has been seen as a long-term target for United because of his preference for attacking football and nurturing young talent, neither of which has been much in evidence at the club since the departure of Ferguson in 2013.
With the Portuguese gone, United may make its move for the Spurs boss, who has taken his club to consecutive finishes in the top three but has yet to bring a trophy to North London.
The Argentine was offered at odds of 2/1 against – meaning one chance in three – within minutes of United announcing Mourinho’s sacking.
Pochettino is closely followed at 4/1 against – or one chance in five – by former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, who led the Spanish side to three successive Champions League titles.
Pochettino would be an expensive capture as he signed a new five-year deal at Spurs this year reportedly worth around £8.5 million ($11 million).
Pochettino, meanwhile, admitted that he has to “accept rumors” after finding himself linked with the vacant Manchester United job. Pochettino shrugged that such speculation was just “part of our business”, The Independent reported.
“After nearly five years a lot of rumors have happened about my position as manager of Tottenham,” Pochettino said.
“I cannot answer this type of question. These rumors happen in football. I respect everyone’s opinion, when people praise me, when angry with me, when they say different things. We know rumors happen.”
Laurent Blanc is one of the first names being considered to replace Mourinho at United until the end of the season, Sky Sports News understands.
United's executive vice chairman Ed Woodward believes the caretaker boss should know the club, and understand its traditions along with its culture of attacking football.
Blanc, who played for United between 2001 and 2003, has not managed a team for more than two and a half years.
He started his managerial career at Bordeaux before taking over of the French national team. He then went on to manage Paris Saint-Germain for three years until June 2016.
Ferguson attempted to lure Blanc to Old Trafford several times before finally succeeding in August 2001 when, at the age of 35, the central defender replaced the departing Jaap Stam.
After helping United win the 2002/03 Premier League title, Blanc retired from playing at the end of the season.