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Column: Mourinho firing doesn’t fix malaise at Man United

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 file photo Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, seen through foam bubbles, wipes his forehead prior the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Manchester United at London Stadium in London in London, England. Manchester United says Jose Mourinho has left the Premier League club with immediate effect. The decision was announced Tuesday Dec. 19, 2018, two days after a 3-1 loss to Liverpool left United 19 points off the top of the Premier League after 17 games.(AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File)

LONDON (AP) — The rot runs deep at Manchester United. Firing Jose Mourinho just removes the immediate stench of gloom.

With every rebuke aimed — very publicly — at his players or paymasters, Mourinho looked more fixated on picking public fights rather than addressing his own shortcomings.

Call it palpable discord.

Chelsea used that phrase when dismissing Mourinho — for a second time — just three years and one day ago. A championship-winning side had been dragged down to a point above the relegation zone. Also, the authority of a rare female doctor of an English Premier League team had been undermined while being publicly humiliated by Mourinho.

The serial winner became tainted goods. So United knew just what it was getting when it gave the game’s most volatile character a route back into the dugout in 2016.

The owning Glazer family and Ed Woodward, the vice chairman entrusted with running United day-to-day, ignored the alarm bells in their obsession with racking up social media interactions and Galactico signings.

But since Manchester City had just hired Pep Guardiola, how else was United to respond in 2016 than by installing its own managerial colossus in the dugout across town? The answer was — and is — to formulate a rational strategy to restore the Red Devils to the pinnacle of English football where Alex Ferguson left them before retiring in 2013.

Instead, Woodward abandoned the studious transfer strategy honed under Ferguson in tandem with David Gill, who stepped down as chief executive when the manager’s 26-year reign ended. Since then, the record 20-time English champions haven’t come close to winning the league under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and now Mourinho.

“The regression of the team led by the manager may be the immediate trigger for today’s action, it is also the result of some poor decisions,” the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust said. “Three managerial appointments each with different playing styles and the player investments that they triggered.”

The players knew who was boss under Ferguson. The Scot offloaded David Beckham in 2003 after growing “uncomfortable with the celebrity aspect of his life.”

But Woodward gives the impression of allowing the egos in the dressing room to run the show while churning through managers — three now since 2013 — while indulging the demands of players and agents. Can you imagine Ferguson allowing a player to have personalized advertising on perimeter hoardings during games? That happened when Paul Pogba’s emoji flashed around the field at Old Trafford.

The midfielder was brought back to Old Trafford from Juventus in August 2016 in time for Mourinho’s first season in a transfer that cost 105 million euros (then $116 million). Mourinho certainly can’t complain about not being backed with cash to spend. Only he did just that when he couldn’t sign a center back in the summer transfer window — very publicly — and Woodward couldn’t control the outbursts.

“For us it will be a difficult season.”

That was Mourinho’s forecast after the opening game of the Premier League — a match won against Leicester. It suggested little faith in his own abilities — so much for the Special One? — and set the tone for the next four months of a reign that ended two days after Sunday’s loss to Liverpool.

You can’t question the mentality of players as often as Mourinho did and expect them to perform for you.

Mourinho did collect two trophies in his first season at United — the League Cup and Europa League in 2017 — and followed them with the highest finish since Ferguson. But the runner-up placing in May only reinforced Manchester City’s supremacy. Flush with cash from Abu Dhabi — albeit with financial practices under scrutiny by football authorities — City finished 19 points ahead of United.

That is now the deficit between current leader Liverpool and United in sixth place. Even qualifying for the Champions League looks beyond United this season, with Mourinho’s former Chelsea side 11 points ahead in fourth place.

United said on Tuesday that Mourinho’s departure allows the club to overhaul the transfer strategy and implement the director of football structure Mourinho opposed. If that was a long-term plan, then why did United hire Mourinho in the first place?

For all his acumen as a sharp financial operator who ensures the sustainability of a debt-loaded business, Woodward looks increasingly out of his depth on footballing matters.

United is looking for a fourth permanent manager in less than six years. Previously, the club took four decades to go through as many coaches.

“They’ve got to reset the football structure within the club,” former United captain Gary Neville said on Tuesday. “They’ve got to put more intelligent people in there who understand the football side of things and not just hide behind the manager. They have to look at themselves as well and make sure there is a change.”

If not, the malaise could infect even more of a club past its prime.

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Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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