The inevitable happened. Jose Mourinho once again saw his tenure as manager expire in his 3rd year, this time with Man Utd. While I saw this coming 2 and a half years ago, the Man Utd brass didn’t. Now they have to look out for another new permanent Man Utd manager, the 4th one since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Hiring Mourinho who has never stayed with a club for 4+ years was always going to end this way. It was never going to get any better than his usually fruitful 2nd season. A season that ended with only a 2nd place and not a single one of Mourinho’s precious trophies. His falling out with club record signing and World Cup winner Paul Pogba was not a huge surprise either. It is certainly indicative of why Mourinho was never the right man for Man Utd in the first place.
Unlocking the 2018 World Cup potential in Paul Pogba might be the most important task for whoever becomes the next Man Utd manager, but the Red Devils are talented well beyond Pogba.
If you ask me, Anthony Martial is just as talented as Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling from the sky-blue half of Manchester. Marcus Rashford has shown glimpses of being the next big thing at the striker position for England.
Fred hasn’t been able to show his true value since being brought in. The Brazilian in tandem with Pogba and the always reliable Nemanja Matic should have formed one of the best midfield trios in the world. That sentence will never be uttered about a midfield featuring Marouane Fellaini.
Diogo Dalot is one of the most promising full-backs in the world, while Luke Shaw showed what he’s worth at the start of the season and is still only 23 years old. Mourinho already had a future centre back pairing in place despite his outcry for a new one. Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf. No one ever doubted Bailly’s potential, while Lindelöf has become very underrated as he’s still being chastised for his early struggles in a Man Utd shirt. He has been very solid so far in just his 4th full professional season.
We all know David De Gea will be a world class goalkeeper for another 10 years, while big names like Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku have dominated the Premier League before. There should be more than enough firepower here to compete for a top 4 spot in the future and the squad is young enough to only continue to get better.
But who will get the most out of this talented squad? How can the board fix their mistakes and finally hire the right manager? Let’s take a look at some of the candidates and see who’s the best fit for Man Utd:
Zinedine Zidane has been the hottest name linked with the permanent job and on paper he looks like the ideal candidate. He is available after leaving Real Madrid this summer, a club he won 3 Champions League trophies with. The Spanish giants are now in shambles after he left, having already fired his replacement Julen Lopetegui.
Zidane is a big name, not just as a manager, but also for everyone who remembers what a lovely player he was. He is well liked by players, fans and the media and seemingly has the accolades as a manager to prove his worth. As Mourinho would say, the trophies speak for themselves. There are doubts about just how good of a manager Zinedine Zidane really is however, even from the man himself:
“I’m not the best coach, I’m not the best tactically, but I have something else. I have desire and passion, and that means a lot more.”
Doubters will bring up the fact that he took over a Real Madrid squad that was arguably the best in the world already. They’ll say that he had fellow Ballon D’or winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric to go along with world class defenders in Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Marcelo and superstars like Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos. “He hasn’t proven anything, he got lucky”.
A lot of the same criticism was levied at Pep Guardiola after his fantastic period as Barcelona manager. Unfair criticism might I add, that somehow stayed with Guardiola until his 100 point campaign with Man City. Make no mistake about it however, Zinedine Zidane is no Guardiola.
Guardiola did wholesale changes when he took over Barcelona. He shipped out fan favorites Ronaldinho and Deco, an unpopular decision at the time. Barcelona B prospects Sergio Busquets and Pedro got promoted to the first team, getting playing time over more prominent names like Yaya Touré and Thierry Henry. He also made sure to acquire Gerard Piqué and Dani Alves to fit his style of play. All of these moves became pivotal in shaping the identity of Barcelona till this day.
Zidane, apart from bringing Casemiro into the fold – who had been riding the bench under Rafa Benitez – pretty much carried on as usual with Real Madrid. The team had won the Champions League just two years prior and must be considered somewhat lucky to win 3 straight under Zidane. Maybe with VAR in place back then, things would be different. Winning the Champions League 3 times in a row is an impressive and unmatched feat, but it’s hard to tell how much of the credit Zidane deserves for it.
What Zidane does deserve a lot of credit for however, is how he managed the Real Madrid locker room, keeping a lot of big egos in check. This is something Mourinho has failed to do not just in Man Utd, but also back when he was the manager of Real Madrid. Mourinho’s biggest flaw might be Zidane’s biggest strength. On the other hand, Mourinho’s tactical prowess might be what Zidane lacks to be a top class manager.
I think Zidane could get the best out of his star players, most notably fellow French artiste, Paul Pogba, who idolized Zidane growing up. While getting Pogba back to playing his best would be a huge boost, it wouldn’t be enough to beat the other 5 major teams in the Premier League.
To do that, Zidane would need to forge a new identity for Man Utd, away from the defensive and boring style of Mourinho. He’d have to utilize his up and coming players to their full potential, putting them in positions to succeed. Plotting Casemiro into a starting XI chock full of world beaters is one thing, but developing a whole squad of talents into a strong cohesive unit is something very few managers can do. I have my doubts Zidane could do that, but I’d like to see him try.
One of the managers who have proven that he can build a young squad into a championship contender is Mauricio Pochettino. Which is why I think he’s the best potential manager Man Utd could get.
Pochettino is 2nd to none other than Pep Guardiola, which is where I ranked him among the “top 6” managers about a year ago (Check it out to see where I had Mourinho). While I question if Zidane can build a squad from the ground up in his own image, Pochettino has already proven he can do it.
Michael Dawson, Roberto Soldado, Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli were part of the starting XI Pochettino inherited when he took over Tottenham. I mean… if you can’t recognize the fantastic job Pochettino has done with Spurs because of the lack of trophies, I don’t know what to tell you, but I’ll try.
Despite what successful trophy hoarder Mourinho might think, Poch hasn’t transformed his team by outspending anyone either. Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Ben Davies, Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld and Heung-Min Son were brought in for a total of £46 million. That’s about the same amount of money Man Utd spent on Fred this summer alone.
On top of that, Harry Kane has become one of the best strikers in the world. Danny Rose ironically turned out to be good enough to be linked with a at the time big move to Man Utd. Before Spurs surpassed Man Utd on the totempole. Kyle Walker did indeed get his move to Man City. Christian Eriksen became even better than advertised as an Ajax youngster. Hugo Lloris has enjoyed his best years under Pochettino.
Do you not think he could do the same with Rashford, Shaw, Dalot, Pogba and De Gea and all the other players at Man Utd?
I think most sensible football fans can see that Pochettino would be perfect for the job, but might doubt if Man Utd are able to snatch him from the grasps of Daniel Levy and Tottenham. To that I say: Man Utd are one of the biggest and most powerful clubs in the world and if they really want Pochettino, they can get him. They might go for the easy and glamourous option in Zidane, but if I was in charge, I’d do everything in my power to get Pochettino.
But what about the rest of the options?
It worked for Chelsea, right.. right? I don’t think Manchester United should look to Chelsea when it comes to managers, even though they have followed the “Chelsea model” after Ferguson’s departure.
But don’t get me wrong, Antonio Conte is a great manager whose 3-4-3 system possibly revolutionized, but certainly influenced a lot of the Premier League tactics we see today. A system that could suit Man Utd’s personnel as well.
Bailly and Lindelöf could work well in a back 3, especially if they add another huge centre back signing in between them. Most of Man Utd’s full-backs are already offensive in nature. Whether it’s youngsters Shaw and Dalot or the experienced Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia. Matic can play in the N’Golo Kanté role or in the.. Nemanja Matic role he played under Conte with Chelsea. Martial, Rashford and Alexis Sanchez can operate around Romelu Lukaku, who acts like the big brute enforcer Diego Costa was for Chelsea.
The only question mark is Pogba; the key to Man Utd’s success going forward. While he brings the same superstar flair, he is a very different player to Eden Hazard. Not only would his fit on the pitch be in question, but also his relationship with Conte off it. Something tells me it wouldn’t be the best. That makes it hard for me to envision Conte as the long-time successful manager Man Utd are hoping to appoint.
Available? Check. Knows Man Utd? Check. Proven quality manager? Ehm… Maybe?
It started off well for Laurent Blanc’s managerial career. He took a Bordeaux side, led by Marouane Chamakh, to a 2nd place finish and subsequently winning Ligue 1 the following year. I’ll repeat that… Blanc won Ligue 1 with Marouane Chamakh leading the way.
That was with Bordeaux however. A scrappy underdog in a French league that didn’t have the powerhouse they have now in PSG, with the previously dominant Olympique Lyonnais in decline.
Speaking of PSG, Blanc took over as their manager, after his failed attempt at salvaging a French national team in disarray post Raymond Domenech. With new owners funneling cash into the team, PSG easily took care of business in Ligue 1 under Blanc. However, like with France, Blanc didn’t quite earn the respect of his dressing room in PSG. Most notably with now Spurs defender Serge Aurier calling him a “pussy” among other things. Struggling to keep his players under control and lacklustre results in the Champions League cost him his job with PSG.
So while Laurent Blanc could get good results initially, history tells us that he has problems keeping his players in check and eventually falls out of favour with the board. Sounds familiar Man Utd fans?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Someone who is familiar to Man Utd fans, is the new caretaker Ole Gunnar Solskjær. As a fellow Norwegian, I am also very much familiar with “The Baby–faced Assassin“.
His time managing Molde in Norway has been successful. He won the league in dominant fashion two years in a row in 2011 and 2012. After an unsuccessful stint with Cardiff, he won his Europa League group as a huge underdog in 15/16 with Molde.
His stint with Cardiff hurt his chances of getting a Premier League job. It will go down as a failure, but he was in for a tough time in Wales. New owner Vincent Tan changed up their whole identity and Solskjær was hired mid-season for an already struggling side.
Solskjær obviously also has history with Man Utd, not just as a player, but as a coach too. He was in charge of the Man Utd reserves back when Paul Pogba was just a youngster. Solskjær already has a good relationship with Pogba and was quoted just a few months ago saying this about him:
Paul is a fantastic kid so hopefully we can build the team around him and keep him.
The fact that Solskjær says “we” even back before he was in line for the Man Utd job, tells you something about the bond between him and the club, whose fans still chant his name to this day.
While I don’t think he’s good enough to become the permanent manager, he makes sense as the caretaker. He could certainly galvanize the team and fans around him, giving the Red Devils something to be excited about for the rest of the season. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to create some magic in the Champions League for Man Utd yet again.