His relationships with his players, one by one, broke down. Paul Pogba was the most high profile — Mourinho would write to Woodward to tell him he had tried everything, from criticizing him privately to criticizing him publicly, but could not find a way to get the best out of the World Cup-winning France midfielder — but he was not the only one.
Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly, Marcus Rashford — pretty much everyone drew his ire sooner or later. He bemoaned how little character, how little grit, these young players had. “Spoiled brats,” he called them. He could not inspire them, motivate them, as easily as he once had.
After Anfield, the club felt enough was enough. It will appoint a manager, most likely a former player — Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer has been mentioned — to see it through to the end of the season, and then move for a permanent replacement. Pochettino has long been the primary target.
Pochettino is not a winner, of course. He has won no trophies at all as a manager, as Mourinho, outraged that Tottenham should have been attracting praise for such trifling things as smart recruitment and promotion of young players, has noted previously.
That he is so appealing nonetheless is telling. It is important that he is willing to work within a structure, rather than expecting the whole club to be overhauled in line with his whims. It is important that he sees the benefits in promoting youth, does not meet the slightest of setbacks by demanding to see the bank balance, and seems to be able to find common ground with very rich, very talented young men.
Pochettino — like Klopp, or Maurizio Sarri, or Pep Guardiola — does that. He stands for something: a way of running a club, a way of playing the game. His beliefs, sincerely held, can be packaged, presented and, ultimately, sold. Attractive soccer can be marketed across the globe; it can draw in new fans and retain the affection of old ones.
Mourinho does not offer that. By the end, his United had no discernible character, strictly limited aesthetic appeal. It was as much the approach that condemned him as the results, and it is precisely that which will make him unpalatable to those clubs that once courted him relentlessly when he decides he is ready to return to work.