‘I've sat in this chair twice before,’ Jose Mourinho said. ‘With Porto - Man United out, with Real Madrid - Man United out, so this is nothing new for this football club.’
While being knocked out of the Champions League may be nothing new for Manchester United , suffering the most listless of defeats at the hands of Sevilla is certainly a new experience for the Portuguese manager.
Never before Tuesday would Mourinho have decided to approach a knockout tie in such a carelessly lazy manner, but that is how United turned up at Old Trafford, and that is how they performed for almost 80 minutes of perhaps the worst European performance ever put in by the Red Devils.
Maybe Mourinho’s blasé approach comes from having been coaching at the pinnacle of football for too long; maybe it is just a case of ‘been there, done that’ one too many times.
But this performance surely makes this the last time Mourinho deserves to coach at the elite level of the game.
He approached a home European match in the most offhand manner, as if winning was of the smallest concern to him. Despite being handed a round-of-16 draw regarded as one of the easiest in the entire 2017/18 Champions League , Mourinho’s side showed no desire to attack until two goals down to Sevilla - a Sevilla side who sit fifth in LaLiga with a negative goal difference.
Such an approach may be excused against the European elite - Real Madrid , Barcelona, Bayern Munich - but to play this way in a home match against Sevilla reeks of an underlying fear which has started to possess Mourinho far too strongly.
His philosophy has always been to cede possession to the opposition as the team with the ball is most likely to make a mistake, and while that is fine to a certain extent, there comes a point when Mourinho’s own players are so scared of making mistakes their play is of the most reserved kind.
Only Romelu Lukaku , the one player to finish the game with any sort of commendation, attempted to drive United forward. But his brilliance at holding the ball up and beating off defenders with powerful runs into the final third was for nothing; every time he looked up all he saw was a vast space between himself and his closest teammate. This space increased as the game wore on, like shadows lengthening with the dusk that started to fall over Old Trafford.
Once again, Lukaku's excellent work goes unrewarded due to Mourinho's set-up
How can Mourinho avoid criticism for this performance? For any other manager it would hang over the rest of their career, the clearest reminder that elite football has passed them by.
But Mourinho has an incredible ability to divert blame and keep his record clean; his comments made after the match got those wheels in motion, blaming Manchester United as a club rather than himself.
But Mourinho’s career as an elite manager is over, no matter how many times he rebuts such a claim.
What elite player will want to join a side managed by Mourinho when he approaches such a game in this manner? What elite club will want to hire him if it means approaching games against lesser teams as if they were the greatest side ever seen?
Why will Paul Pogba, subject of so much criticism simply because he is being forced to play in a system that doesn’t suit him, want to stay under Mourinho when he can look just a few miles down the road and see Pep Guardiola redefining what English football regards as attacking football? It must be easy for him to get jealous when asked once again to keep it simple in the middle of the park.
If Mourinho fails to divert the blame for United’s defeat to Sevilla, this game will never be forgotten, and he will carry it like a black mark for the rest of his career - a career which no longer deserves to take place at the elite level of the sport.
Mourinho dug his own grave by forcing this football on United, and for the first time in his career it looks like the soil is starting to crumble around his fingers as he attempts to writhe out of the hole he has forced himself into.