In May 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson implored an emotional Stretford End to ‘stand by your new manager’. United fans duly complied, roaring on David Moyes to make a good fist of world football’s toughest job. ‘The Chosen One’, as a huge banner across the Stretford End proclaimed Moyes to be, was swallowed by the weight of expectation and sheer size of the club.
United then went for a seasoned hard taskmaster, with a proven record of promoting youth and playing total football. The Iron Tulip, Louis van Gaal, ultimately failed to stamp his vision upon United. However, he did leave United with an FA Cup, and a squad with the likes of Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
United are now in the hands of erstwhile serial winner Jose Mourinho. A Europa League title and a second-place finish in his first two seasons seemed to signal progress. Now in his third year at the club, Mourinho has lost the faith of a talented group of players, polarized the club’s fan base and thrown the ideals of the club under the bus in an attempt to save face. It is a question of when not whether United and their manager part ways. Here, we look at five potential candidates who could take up the hot seat at Old Trafford post the Mourinho era.
Eddie Howe has a long time of service at Bournemouth, with a longevity few managers can lay claim to. Having taken over Bournemouth at a time when they were going into administration and in the relegation zone of league 2, Howe has guided a club on the verge of collapse into Premier League mid-table comfort.
Howe has the capacity to form relationships with players that can last the test of time. Having stayed at Bournemouth for so many years, he has shown the tenacity and courage to mold a club in his image. These are all skills a Manchester United manager needs. The style of football is promising, with Bournemouth preferring a possession-based game. It is not dour like the van Gaal regime; this system uses quick movement and interchange to free up space.
Bournemouth carved open United’s defense in the fixture at the Vitality stadium this season multiple times, with Callum Wilson’s goal coming after a beautiful move. Howe backs himself on his ability to fashion the team as a collective of individual players performing at their best. He has a devotion to helping each player reach peak performance, akin to Pep Guardiola and Unai Emery. In an interview with the Daily Echo, Nathan Ake says,
‘He is a good one-to-one manager. He tries to develop everyone personally. If there are things to improve, he will go to you after training to do some things with him‘.
United’s squad is a potpourri of stars who all need a final polish to reach a collective next level, and Howe could be the man to offer that. Howe carries with him an energy and zeal, and that could endear him to the Old Trafford faithful.
Howe’s story isn’t a million miles away from David Moyes’. Howe has relied on a relatively small and trusted team of scouts to identify British and foreign talent for him. They have helped him make several cost-effective deals for players with the potential to grow under him. At United, the scale is different. A vast scouting network looks at every level of talent.
The Glazers are interested in marketable signings, and Howe may find his philosophy is second fiddle to the commercial monster of Manchester United. In addition, Howe has preferred to sign young and determined lads, climbing up the ladder. United’s squad have established stars visibly lacking motivation. Can Howe walk into a dressing room with big personalities and trophy winners and get their attention? We will only know that if he secures the job. The final worry is probably that Bournemouth are nowhere near United in terms of profile and size. A director of football could help Howe make the right signings and understand what is expected of him, but it would still be a massive leap of faith for a promising young manager.
Having guided Real Madrid to an unheralded three Champions League titles in a row, Zinedine Zidane sits highly in the list of managerial talents available in world football at the moment. Having been one of the finest footballers to have graced the game, Zizou remains someone who can walk into Old Trafford with a swagger, demand respect and get it.
Zinedine Zidane. The name makes any footballer sit up. The likes of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial grew up wanting to be this man. To play for him would extract the best out of them. Zidane formed an excellent relationship with his fabled Madrid team and could obtain great performances consistently out of them. Having asked Cristiano Ronaldo to compromise on his league playing time to maximize his performances in Europe, Zidane is not afraid to manage the game’s biggest stars.
He has shown tactical flexibility, managing plenty of two-legged European encounters with great skill. Zidane has shown he has the skill to cope with the pressure cooker environment at Madrid; something similar is likely to meet him at Manchester if he were to land the job. The politics and egos of the Madrid dressing room are likely to have been far more complex to handle than those at United. Zidane is certainly well prepared. The deal is likely to be on the radar of United’s staff upstairs, simply because of the sheer size of the marketing deal workable. United’s massively valued kit deal with Adidas has helped them secure the return of Paul Pogba, and obtaining Zidane as manager would be the cherry on the marketing cake.
For all of Zidane’s skill at managing his fabled squad, his expertise in the transfer market was never shown. Zidane did not use it a lot and left his job when the threat of Ronaldo and Gareth Bale moving on looked serious. The concept of using the transfer market skillfully to elevate United is something he will have to come to terms with. In addition, he had Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in defense. He had Luka Modric in midfield. He had the brilliant Ronaldo up top.
United seem to have stars of a similar cost, but who have shown nothing close to the kind of world-class performances the above-mentioned players consistently deliver. It will require coaxing, deft management, smart money management as well as a lot of tactical work for Zidane to make a success of this job. But great challenges are for the greatest of us, and Zinedine Zidane is up there amongst the greatest in the footballing realm.
Leonardo Jardim has worked with some of the finest talents in world football and built a brilliant Monaco team in 2016/17, putting up some of the finest play on show in Europe. Having worked with Kylian Mbappe and Anthony Martial, Jardim could be the man to develop United’s attack shy squad into a lethal force.
Jardim loves attacking football and built quite a glorious Monaco team in his spell at Monaco. Having used a preferred 4-4-2 system, Jardim would be able to do much the same at United. The 2 leading the line at Monaco were Kylian Mbappe and Radamel Falcao. United have Martial to fill the role Mbappe played, with quick running and tearing up defenders in 1 v 1’s. Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba could take up roles that Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva did. Rashford akin to Lemar, with an aim to stretch play and get crosses in. Pogba, in a free role to cut in and roam about, could be a brilliant watch.
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With full-backs in Diego Dalot and Luke Shaw to provide the auxiliary width, and a box to box midfielder heavily involved up top in Fred, United could be attacking like not seen since the Sir Alex days. Holding fort will effectively be a single unit of 3 players. The system seems defensively risky, but it would set United fans and their hearts racing. Monaco used their youth system to avoid FFP problems and coasted to a Ligue 1 title with an astonishing 95 points. Such adept use of youth has been the tenet of every successful United boss. Soon after, Europe’s richest came calling for many of Monaco’s stars. The man who developed all of that is now without a job. But the men running Monaco have themselves more to blame for that than their manager.
There is not likely to be any problem at United with regards to keeping his best players. The model at Monaco lent itself to volatility. Expensively assembling squads and quickly selling for huge profits is not the way Manchester United operate. However, Jardim must be allowed to develop those he favors from United’s academy, and at the same time be supported in the transfer market. On the surface, he looks a reasonably good fit for United. But so were Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. United need to create the right environment for this promising Portuguese, or he could end up like their current one.
From the time when he was new to England and needed a translator at Southampton to being suave and confident in watching House of Cards at his home in London, Mauricio Pochettino has come a long way, assembled a brilliant team at Tottenham Hotspur and remains one of the most exciting new coaches in the game.
Pochettino ticks a lot of United’s boxes. He took over Spurs in 2014/15 and rapidly started the process of working out which of the ‘Bale money’ signings could fit the club and who had to go. The likes of Roberto Soldado paved way for academy graduate Harry Kane and Dele Alli was introduced into the fold. Over the course of time, Spurs have gotten used to cementing finishes in the top 4 under the talented Argentine. The current English squad owes a lot of its players to Pochettino. The likes of Kane, Alli, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier and Harry Winks have all grown under Pochettino’s care.
Spurs were a club perennially laughed at as pretenders at the high table of English football’s elite but are now taken seriously. Spurs can turn up and rattle anybody’s cages. The fact that opponents, including Arsenal, now give Spurs their credit and due is the biggest reflection of Pochettino’s work. He wants to be a winner, and his infectious urge to work hard is rubbing off on his players. Spurs have a quintet in Kane, Alli, Son and Eriksen up top playing beautiful football. They pull off meticulously prepared moves from the training ground in games. There is chaos in attack, but it is organized and controlled. And United need that.
A criticism often harped upon with regards to Pochettino is his blank trophy cabinet, and that is certainly not without basis. Spurs have arguably as good a group of players as United but consistently come a cropper in the title run-in. Pochettino has ridden his luck during blips in Spurs’ form. At United, every result sparks massive discussion and debate.
He will have to deal with all of that. His ‘in-game’ management has been very poor at times, rarely more clearly evidenced than in the last North London derby. He is guilty of allowing games to drift, and at United, he cannot be so set in his ways. Sir Alex Ferguson was a winner when he arrived at Manchester United from Scotland. Pochettino isn’t. However, both love developing British talent and putting up good football for the masses. The resources and transfer kitty at United might just offset that gap.
Wildcard – Nicky Butt/ The Class of 92
The United board will most likely not look at this as an option, but Nicky Butt and the class of 92 represent a different and happier time at Manchester United. They know the Manchester United way.
Nicky Butt currently occupies the role of Head Coach at Manchester United’s youth academy. With an in-depth knowledge of the players and talent available, United could go back to their tried and tested way of using youth as a cornerstone of their teams. The class of 92 are all forged from the same mentality as their boss, Sir Alex Ferguson. They could certainly grind sense into the current squad and play the right football.
Needless to say, United fans will back them to the hilt. Even Jose Mourinho, in his embattled state now, has had the backing of the match going fans. United supporters will amplify all that under Butt or the class of 92. They will perceive this as a battle between their finest players and the Glazers, the villains of the piece. The Glazers will be under pressure to tread carefully, and perhaps that is what the football club needs above all.
The class of ’92 or Nicky Butt are all managerial novices. The disasters of Gary Neville at Valencia stay fresh in the memory. In addition, modern football is cutthroat and brutal. There is no room for sentiment. Opposing managers are cold and calculating machines, only there to win. The class of ’92 might take time to warm to the task. Maybe longer than what United can afford now. Any failures on their part would make it a hard pill to swallow for the United fans.
Eddie Howe Image via FourFourTwo
Class of ’92Image via BBC
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