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Jose Mourinho's replacement must get Manchester United's players to express themselves without fear

Manchester United have announced that Jose Mourinho has left the club 'with immediate effect'. Credit: PA

It’s been a slow, painful and very public divorce and it’s been a long time coming.

It’s almost as if Jose Mourinho has been taunting the club, daring them to sack him.

Well Saturday’s match finally did for him. Not just defeat to Liverpool of all clubs, but the manner of that defeat.

His team was taken apart, so much so that the Anfield crowd were chanting "Don’t sack Mourinho".

Embarrassing and an illustration of how, while the other bigger Premier League clubs were improving as they chased down Manchester City, United were at best treading water.

United were taken apart by Liverpool in Mourinho's final game in charge. Credit: PA

What’s more at Anfield, the not-so-long-ago world record signing Paul Pogba was left on the sidelines for the entire game.

Pogba, the French world cup winner, has become a metaphor for everything that is dysfunctional at Old Trafford.

A complete break down of trust and respect between manager and some players, illustrated by a social media post by Pogba in the minutes after Mourinho’s sacking - a picture of him, a sideways look at camera, half a smile and a tag-line "Caption this".

It has since been deleted but just imagine a player laughing in the face of Sir Alex Ferguson like that?

That is where United are now.

A complete break down of trust between manager and some players, illustrated by a social media post by Pogba in the minutes after Mourinho’s sacking. Credit: Paul Pogba/Twitter

In truth it has never seemed like a heavenly match-up.

From his public shaming of Luke Shaw, his open revolt at not being allowed to sign a central defender in the summer and among observations at many an angry media conference this season that "some players care more than others."

But Mourinho has been backed by the board, he has signed all but a dozen players costing £400m.

What he hasn’t been able to do is make a team out of them.

He has in fact overseen United’s worst start to a season in 28 years; 19 points behind leaders Liverpool and 11 points off the top four, already making it a tough job for whoever takes over to secure Champions League football next season.

Laurent Blanc is close to Sir Alex, out of work and a former United player. Credit: AP

Laurent Blanc is favourite to carry the baton until the end of season.

It’s an appointment that would make sense and one that United hope to confirm in the next 48 hours.

Blanc is close to Sir Alex, out of work and a former United player. Also in the frame Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a United favourite and current manager at Molde.

Their season has now finished and won't restart until March.

ITV News has asked the club's managing director whether Solskjaer was in negotiations with Old Trafford - his response "no comment."

For whoever does take over, the task is not a small one - to get a bunch of highly paid, talented athletes to perform to their ability and most importantly to function in unison, all pulling in the same direction

His task is not a small one, to get a bunch of highly paid, talented athletes to perform to their ability and most importantly to function in unison, all pulling in the same direction.

A bit like Gareth Southgate did with England, the new man in charge will have to encourage this squad to play without fear and to express themselves.

Even the most one-eyed United fan will tell you watching their negative, soulless approach under Mourinho has been painful.

Mauricio Pochettino has been targeted as Mourinho’s successor. Credit: PA

Long term it’s no secret that Mauricio Pochettino has been targeted as Mourinho’s successor and it looks like he’ll get offered that opportunity, starting in the summer.

While it will be a struggle to wrestle him away from Spurs and their new stadium, Pochettino may just feel he’s done all he can in North London and it is time for a new challenge.

In the meantime, Mourinho will head home to London for Christmas from his hotel suite in Manchester.

He’ll be many millions richer but his reputation has been dented.

His style of football may not have changed too much but outwardly his persona appears far removed from the charismatic and carefree breath of fresh air who first joined Chelsea in 2004.