It would be apt if, when Jose Mourinho heads back to his suite at the Lowry Hotel just under three miles from Old Trafford and trudges up the stairs with his head full of Manchester United’s latest failure to win, he discovers that his room key does not work in the door.
Quite simply, nothing he tries is coming off, and Wednesday’s 2-2 draw vs. Arsenal was the latest example.
It never used to be like this. Mourinho used to be called — justifiably — the Special One, and back in those days, he could substitute a player halfway through the first half and make it look like a stroke of genius.
He could walk into a press room 24 hours before a Champions League clash against Barcelona in the Camp Nou and boldly name his starting lineup without fear of the opposition making him pay for his supreme confidence.
He could circumvent a UEFA touchline ban by sneaking into the changing room in a laundry skip at Bayern Munich to deliver an unauthorised team talk.
Those were the days when Mourinho could try almost anything and come out the winner. He was bold and audacious, full of swagger and self-belief, and when he made a big decision, you knew that it would come off.
But those days are gone. He can no longer summon the genie from the lamp, and it is becoming a painful process to watch him try.
On Wednesday night, Mourinho attempted to give his team a spark by dropping the club’s two most expensive signings, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, to the substitutes’ bench. The move was noteworthy because of their names, though in fairness to Mourinho, neither player has done much in recent weeks to justify his place in the team.
Pogba’s careless and half-paced performances do not reflect his £89 million price tag, while Lukaku’s failure to score since mid-September — a barren run that ended vs. Southampton at the weekend — made him look vastly over-priced at a club record £90 million.
Neither Pogba nor Lukaku display body language, which suggests that they are busting a gut for the cause, but to drop both for such a big game — Arsenal kicked off eight points clear of United — was a huge gamble by Mourinho.
For it to pay off, he really needed his team to be victorious, but after a bright start, they did not look like getting three points against Unai Emery’s men, who twice took the lead and were unfortunate not to emerge with victory.
United’s latest failure to win left Mourinho on the back foot after the game, so much so that he dodged questions about his selection decision, going only so far as to say that Pogba “came on and gave a good contribution.”
The manager attempted to put a positive spin on the result, despite leaving his team languishing in eighth position — below Bournemouth — by reminding the world that, “the last four matches, we didn’t lose.” Pep Guardiola, 18 points clear of United at the top of the table with Manchester City, will not be waking in the middle of the night on the back of such a run.
Mourinho’s tactics have failed to move with the times and the sight of Marouane Fellaini being introduced in the closing stages was another sign that solutions are running short.
The Fellaini trick worked against Young Boys in the Champions League last week, when the Belgian midfielder scored a stoppage-time winner, and he also settled last season’s league game against Arsenal with another late goal.
But when your last roll of the dice is to “throw on the big man” in the hope that he might get his head on a long ball, it really is scraping the barrel.
What else does Mourinho have up his sleeve? Will he take his United team to Liverpool on Dec. 16 and surprise Jurgen Klopp with a bold, attacking display, or will we once again see a repeat of the past two trips to Anfield — both of which ended in dismal 0-0 stalemates — after Mourinho sent his team out to defend above all else?
This is the problem with Mourinho: When he tries to surprise, the tactic does not work, but when he rolls out the old game plan, that does not work, either.
He is running out of ideas, and United are paying a heavy price.