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19th Feb 2016

OPINION: Why Rachel Riley should be considered for the Manchester United job

Nooruddean Choudry

Something needs to change.

Manchester United look completely rudderless, and Louis van Gaal is nothing but a sitting duck. It’s got to the point where it’s actually crueler to keep him in the job. Ed Woodward needs to do what he should have done at Christmas and relieve the Dutchman of his duties.

The current travails at Old Trafford have led to all sorts of speculation about who should replace the current incumbent, were he to be set free from his prolonged agony. Jose Mourinho is of course the favourite to become only the 20th full-time manager in the club’s history.

However many have serious reservations about the Portuguese. His record may be unsurpassed, but he is seen as truculent, short-termist and controversial. Another major concern is that he simply doesn’t understand the culture and traditions of Manchester United Football Club.

Perhaps the club needs to look a little closer to home. A name that has not yet been mentioned in the context of the Old Trafford hotseat, but would be ideal in many ways is that of Rachel Riley. Although it may seem like a left-field suggestion, let me explain the logic.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, Riley gets the club. Her father is a die-hard red from Swinton, and she’s been going to Old Trafford since she was ten. No manager out there better appreciates the importance of attacking football, youth development and the local fan culture – because she is one.

Secondly, she is highly accomplished. The Countdown presenter obtained four As at A-Level, and studied Mathematics (covering Quantum Theory, Fluid Mechanics and Applied Maths) at Oriel College, Oxford, where she gained an upper second-class honours degree.

Riley is incredibly popular, both with fans and the media. She is charming, professional, respected and talented. Unlike say Mourinho, she wouldn’t stir up controversy or prove difficult to work with. Also she is used to dealing with huge egos on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

What’s more, she is no stranger to Old Trafford or the Carrington training complex. Riley has worked on a number of productions in and around the club, and was part of United’s End Of Season Awards Dinner. Players and club officials know and trust her.

Of course a major gap in Riley’s CV is her lack of top-flight management experience. Mourinho and others certainly better her in that criteria, but she knows the great Sir Alex Ferguson and he would act as the perfect mentor as she learned the ropes in her first head coaching role.

In many ways her lack of experience can be seen as a positive. The club is crying out for fresh ideas and a more innovative approach, and certainly Louis van Gaal has proved that all the experience in the world doesn’t guarantee success. It’s about knowing the club inside out.

Riley would also look great on the touchline, barking out ideas and showing far more passion than the very passive Van Gaal. Anyone who has seen Countdown will realise that Riley rarely sits down. She is always on her feet and instructing her colleagues with purpose and confidence.

In summary, Rachel Riley is popular, talented, intelligent, young, enthusiastic and ambitious. She’s a Man United woman through and through, and understands the ethos and very soul of the club. How great would it be to see a top red like her bring the glory days back to Old Trafford?

Of course, some of you will find the very suggestion ludicrous. Rachel Riley? With no managerial experience or track record, to take charge of one of the biggest clubs in the world? You’ll no doubt believe it to be a nonsensical risk, with no guarantee that her many skills are transferable.

Any scepticism is completely understandable, but many want Ryan Giggs to be the next Man United boss, and the arguments for his appointment are equally illogical. Of course, he could be great and somehow it might just work. But then, why not Rachel Riley?