Driving through the gates of Manchester United’s training ground at Carrington on Saturday, Alexis Sanchez felt the need to play the theme tune to Gladiator. It’s called Now We Are Free.
Just for good measure, Sanchez recorded the moment and stuck it on Instagram for his 9.6 million followers. The message was pretty clear.
No sooner had Jose Mourinho exited the same building on Tuesday clutching his P45 than Sanchez was boarding a flight from Chile, where he has been recuperating from injury at home.
It has been suggested that the problem afflicting United’s highest earner involves his head just as much as his hamstring.
Sanchez is by no means the only player to fall out with Mourinho, but the 30-year-old’s withdrawn nature left him feeling particularly low. Now the manager is gone, and he’s back.
Two hundred miles away in Cardiff, Sanchez’s teammates were leaving their base at the St David’s Hotel for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game in charge – a morale-lifting 5-1 win over his old club.
‘There was a swagger about them for the first time in a long time,’ said one insider.
‘Things have totally turned on their head. No one can believe it’s happened so easily.’
Even the warm-up at the Cardiff City Stadium was more enjoyable under head of strength and conditioning Gary Walker.
The players felt that the routine put on for them by Mourinho’s fitness coach Carlos Lalin was rigorous to the point of leaving them winded at the start of games, even though that is unlikely to win them too much sympathy.
There was a spring in their step going into the Cardiff game, and it wasn’t just the result of Solskjaer and his assistant Mike Phelan returning to the club to oversee matters until the end of the season.
Solskjaer has been a breath of fresh air, hitting all the positive notes that somehow seemed to be beyond Mourinho.
He picked an adventurous team and told them to express themselves. Sometimes football can be that easy.
‘I said the same to these lads as I do back home in Molde,’ Solskjaer confirmed. ‘It’s just work harder than them, enjoy yourself, pass it forward, run forward. If you lose the ball, I don’t mind as long you work to win it back, and they did.’
No longer is there the blame culture that existed under Mourinho. Players are allowed to make mistakes again.
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GRACIAS a todos por los lindos mensajes que me enviaron por mi cumpleaños 🎂 Thanks everyone for the nice messages sent for my birthday 🙏🏽❤️ 🙏🏽 “NO dejes que termine el día sin haber crecido un poco, sin haber sido feliz . No abandones las ansias de hacer tu vida algo extraordinario. No dejes de creer que las palabras y las poesías si pueden cambiar el mundo . Pase lo que pase nuestra esencia está intacta . Somos seres llenos de pasión . La vida es desierto y oasis. Nos derriba, nos lastima , nos enseña, nos convierte en protagonista de nuestra propia historia. Aunque el viento sople en contra, la poderosa obra continua : Tú puedes aportar una estrofa. No DEJES NUNCA DE SOÑAR, porque en sueños es libre el hombre y mujer 🙏🏽❤️
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They used to talk among themselves about who was next in line to be criticised in public by their manager, and ask why they should give everything for him when he kept throwing them ‘under the bus’.
Mourinho, on the other hand, dismissed suggestions that he had lost the dressing room. That would make the players ‘dishonest’, and he refused to believe that.
On Saturday, he got his answer. Five goals and the kind of performance we knew they were capable of.
Of course, Mourinho’s tactics inhibited United. Sure, Solskjaer and his coaching staff deserve credit for liberating them. But here was a team playing to their potential and giving their all at long last.
In many ways, it felt like a final insult to Mourinho, every bit as damning as Sanchez’s video or the smirking photo posted by Paul Pogba on social media within hours of the manager’s departure.
Pogba tried to paper over the cracks when he spoke to reporters after the game, having returned from exile on the bench under Mourinho to have a hand in four of United’s goals. He wasn’t the only one to significantly raise his game.
‘I know you’re waiting for something about Jose or the result,’ Pogba said.
‘Not everything went well, but we won trophies. I want to thank him for that. He made me improve, as a person as well.’
You can only imagine Mourinho’s reaction when he heard that back home in Portugal, where he is spending Christmas and was seen on Saturday watching his hometown team Vitoria de Setubal alongside son Zuca.
After all, this is a player he referred to only recently as a ‘virus’.
That’s in the past now. Solskjaer will provide an altogether more positive working environment.
United trained after flying home from Cardiff. Sanchez was back at Carrington, too, though it is unclear when he can play again.
Solskjaer gave his players off on Christmas Eve, and did not have them in until 6pm on Tuesday, so they can spend more time with their families on Christmas Day.
His wife and three children have flown in to join him at The Lowry Hotel after he was forced to cancel plans to spend the holidays at his parents’ house in Norway.
Christmas couldn’t have got off to a much better start.
Solskjaer’s next three Premier League games are against Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Newcastle, then it’s Reading in the FA Cup, so there’s every reason to believe it can continue.
The gap to the top four is down to eight points.
‘We’ve caught up teams before at this club,’ said Solskjaer, 45. ‘We play well in the second half of the season. Man United teams always do.’Daily Mail