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08th Nov 2021

Five coaches who could replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Man Utd manager

Robert Redmond

Here are five managers who could replace Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under pressure again, and this time it may be one defeat too many. Manchester United lost 2-0 to Manchester City on Saturday afternoon but the scoreline didn’t accurately reflect the gulf in class between the two teams or the respective coaching staff.

Solskjaer simply isn’t the elite coach United require to restore them to glory, or even make them competitive against their rivals. This isn’t a controversial or harsh statement but is based on the evidence from the pitch.

United will, eventually, have to replace Solskajer. Here are five candidates that could take over from the Norwegian, the pros and cons of each coach and why there is no obvious choice to step in at this point in the season. (Although, it is clear choice who should be the club’s long-term target).

In truth, they messed up by not appointing Antonio Conte, who has taken over at Tottenham Hotspur.

Zinedine Zidane

Zidane is a popular choice amongst some United fans to replace Solskjaer. On paper, it seems like a good fit. Zidane certainly commands respect throughout world football.

The French midfielder was arguably the best player of his generation and he has experienced incredible success as a manager. Across two stints with Real Madrid, Zidane won two La Liga titles and the Champions League three times. Man United supporters, understandably, look at his record and feel he is the right manager to coax consistent displays from a talented but underperforming squad.

Yet, dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that Zidane is not what United need. Firstly, the Frenchman is, by all accounts, more of a man-manager than a detail-orientated coach who will impose shape on a disjointed team. Zidane would largely offer the Red Devils more of the same, albeit he does have more of a winning pedigree than Solskjaer.

The former Real Madrid manager is also reportedly not interested in the position. He does not speak English and is not understood to have envisioned working in the Premier League.

Zidane is a smart guy and surely knows his stellar reputation means he doesn’t have to gamble and take a risky role for his next job. The Frenchman is undoubtedly a better fit for Paris Saint-Germain or the France national team and is likely sitting tight until one of the two positions become vacant.

United manager

Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers is an excellent coach, one of the best in the Premier League, and he ticks a lot of boxes for Man United. The Northern Irishman is tactically astute and also flexible, with a history of adapting game plans for the players at his disposal.

Rodgers’ teams always play the positive, attacking football Solskjaer speaks about. But there’s a method and structure behind the ambition, rather than the vague wishful statements that United have clung to in recent years.

The 48-year-old also has a track record of improving individual players. Rodgers could work wonders with stars such as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood, who could be world beaters with tailored individual coaching.

Harry Maguire and United’s defence, meanwhile, wouldn’t be as exposed as they currently are.

Rodgers is also an excellent communicator. In his early years as a manager, this often led to him saying too much and straying into parody territory. Rodgers, however, appears to have consciously cut back on this. He now comes across as a clear thinker. While he has experience managing two of the most popular clubs in the world – Liverpool and Celtic – and knows how to handle the intensity and scrutiny that comes with the job. He also won trophies at Celtic and Leicester and came agonisingly close to landing Liverpool an unexpected title in 2014.

Rodgers is probably the perfect candidate on paper to be the next United coach. But in reality, it’s a non-runner right now for several reasons. For a start, Leicester are highly unlikely to entertain the thought of losing their manager at this stage of the season to a domestic rival. United would have to buy him out of his contract, on top of offering him a more lucrative deal than his current agreement. Considering the Red Devils didn’t approach free-agent Conte because they were reportedly worried that the move would be “too expensive”, it seems unlikely that they will approach Rodgers.

The club also probably don’t have the stomach to sack a United legend and replace him with a former Liverpool manager. So, it’s possible that Rodgers still needs to put more time between his stint at Liverpool, which ended in 2015, before he can take over at Old Trafford. Rodgers is reportedly in contention to replace Pep Guardiola when he leaves Manchester City in 2023. In truth, this seems a better move for him after carefully building his managerial career.

Graham Potter

Brighton’s decision to sack Chris Hughton and replace him with Potter was widely criticised in 2019. Hughton was a popular figure who helped Brighton reach the Premier League after years of trying. The Seagulls also remained in the top-flight under the former Ireland defender.

Yet, Brighton played functional, direct football and the club had ambitions to do more. They replaced Hughton with Potter, who had only been a manager in English football for a single season. Swansea finished 10th in the Championship under the former Stoke City midfielder, who had made his name as a coach with Östersund in Sweden. From a distance, it appeared to be an unnecessary gamble.

Brighton’s decision, however, turned out to be a masterstroke, the type of proactive move that the hierarchy at United could never fathom. Potter has revolutionised how Brighton play. They are now one of the best-coached, bravest sides in the Premier League and are capable of giving any team a game. Potter is, by all accounts, an excellent individual coach, a shrewd tactician and a brilliant man-manager.

The 46-year-old seems destined to manage an elite team. Yet, it could be argued that it may be too soon for Potter to take over at United. The English coach may need to take one more step up the ladder before he jumps into the hot-seat at Old Trafford. Potter is, however, definitely one to watch for United fans.

Erik Ten Hag

Ten Hag is one of the brightest coaches in Europe and is surely on the radar of every elite club on the continent. Ajax are playing some of the best football in European football at the moment and Ten Hag is a key factor in their renaissance.

The Dutch club have also consistently punched above their weight in Europe for several years and narrowly missed out on the final of the Champions League in 2019. Ajax lost most of that team’s young stars – Frenkie De Jong, Matthijs De Ligt, Donny van de Beek – but their manager has helped the club remain competitive and never sacrificed his core coaching principles.

It is easy to see why he appeals to United. Ten Hag is an elite coach. His team play impressive attacking football and he has a track record of developing young players. Yet, the conditions at Old Trafford couldn’t be any different to the Johan Cruyff Arena.

Unlike Ajax, Man United have never been an ideological club, and there is no football philosophy present. There isn’t an experienced director of football to help identify players and impose a structure from first-team down to youth teams. It is a messy club, where transfer fees are squandered on signings that make no sense. The club appears devoid of any football direction.

Ten Hag would improve United’s first-team. But to make this work, and replicate the success he has achieved at Ajax, the 51-year-old may need to bring Edwin van der Sar, Ajax’s CEO, and Marc Overmars, the club’s director of football, with him to Old Trafford, as United’s issues go beyond Solskjaer.

Mauricio Pochettino

United should have approached Pochettino to be the club’s manager in 2016 when they sacked Louis van Gaal. They should have gone for him in December 2018 after they sacked Jose Mourinho. But most of all, United should have approached and appointed the Argentine coach last year when it was clear Solskjaer was not the elite coach the club needs.

Pochettino spent over a year out of work between leaving Tottenham and taking over Paris Saint-Germain. It is a damning indictment of United’s football knowledge that they did not identify the 49-year-old as the ideal candidate to manage the team.

Pochettino built one of the most memorable teams of the Premier League era at Spurs. Under the Argentine, the north London side played modern, high-intensity football, with talented young players. He improved every player at his disposal and Spurs were the hardest-working team in the Premier League.

Tottenham went from also-rans to Champions League regulars, title-contenders and European Cup finalists. All of this was achieved with a wage budget that was significantly smaller than any of their rivals. Between 2014 and 2018, Spurs had a net spend of just £50m. Their success stemmed directly from the work Pochettino put in on the training ground. With United’s resources, the Argentine could restore the club to glory.

PSG is a bad fit for Pochettino. The club’s superstars aren’t going to play the way he wants and they certainly aren’t going to work hard off the ball. United should do the right thing and finally make a move for him. Yet, they may have missed their chance.

At best, United may have to wait until the end of the season to appoint Pochettino, who has always been the right choice for the club.

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