Richard Buxton: The end is near for Jose
United manager's obsession with creating problems instead of solving them is beginning to take its toll
Misdirection remains the oldest habit that Jose Mourinho simply cannot resist.
Preferring to start fires rather than fighting them has never served the Manchester United manager well, and probably it never will, yet he continues to willingly drink from that poisoned chalice, irrespective of the club and circumstances in which he finds himself.
A goalless draw with Sevilla in the Champions League last-16, first-leg yesterday morning (Singapore time) should be remembered for David de Gea's goalkeeping heroics.
Instead, as usual, Mourinho elected to make himself the centre of attention once more.
Virtually anyone and everyone connected to the current Red Devils' set-up was considered collateral damage in the face of the Portuguese coach's latest bout of self-indulgent ramblings.
As ever, there is an obvious target, even when somewhat hidden in plain sight.
Swiping at his own medical team for Ander Herrera's early withdrawal, despite sitting out the previous three games due to injury, and hailing an ineffectual performance by Scott McTominay were merely pathfinders to his ongoing stand-off with Paul Pogba.
Omitting the France international from the starting line-up at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan was a self-inflicted wound for Mourinho as the questions it generated placed his latest in-house adversary in the centre stage instead of forcing him into the shadows.
Although that exile proved short-lived, sparked by Herrera's departure after 17 minutes, it continued a theme of the irrational which has often preceded the "Special One" ultimately exiting various clubs over the past decade.
Pogba did little to discredit the ex-Chelsea boss' decision-making on his team selections.
Beyond the masterful and impenetrable de Gea, most of his teammates also failed to offer remotely promising accounts of themselves in the Andalusian stalemate.
Yet the £89 million (S$164m) man's isolation has become increasingly evident from Mourinho's recent comments.
To use his own words, he prefers players who have a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars and no big watch - the complete antithesis of Pogba, essentially.
That battle of industry over indulgence has been the undoing of numerous Mourinho sides; one must outweigh the other at all times. Shapeless components, like McTominay, take precedence over players capable of providing a genuine influence on proceedings.
When the war of attrition becomes unwinnable, due to the sheer quality that several of European football's heavyweights possess, his end-game philosophy invariably kicks in.
Excuses and diversionary tactics are wheeled out with zero hesitation.
His side's spectacular failure to handle the heat of a first-leg encounter in Spain was the perfect opportunity to exercise that damage-limitation operation early.
United mustered an abject solitary shot on target against their less-than-stellar La Liga opponents; a far cry from the free-flowing football which had become commonplace before the great money-throwing experiment which continues to engulf Old Trafford.
When forced to confront the Sophie's Choice between setting adrift either their headline attractions or Mourinho, Chelsea opted for the latter.
Less than three years on, history threatens to come full circle at the Theatre of Dreams even before his previous employer's visit on Sunday.
Predictably, the wheels already appear in motion for another premature exit for Mourinho.
Only a rapid acceleration of his third-season syndrome denouement would now come as a surprise.