Manchester United: Managerial Candidates
After a phenomenal performance against Leeds United in the opening weekend of the Premier League, managerial and coaching concerns have, yet again, returned to haunt the prospects of Manchester United. Following their comprehensive victory against Leeds, United have been a shadow of themselves on the pitch, considering the expectations surrounding the club, ahead of the campaign. A string of poor results combined with dampening performances and the reality of having already been knocked out of a domestic cup competition has resulted in many fans reconsidering their opinions on the manager.
In the Premier League, the Red Devils have only managed to take 14 of the possible 21 points, and are yet to play a traditional ‘top-six’ side with Chelsea, Manchester City, and Liverpool, having already faced each other this season. Additionally, Solskjaer’s team have already been knocked out of the Carabao Cup, while many remain despondent of United’s prospects of comfortably qualifying for the next stage of the UEFA Champions League.
While the club have signed world-class players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane in a bid to challenge for major trophies this season, Solskjaer’s ability to foster a change in mentality and utilise players to their full potential have remained the striking points between him and other managers across the Premier League, since his permanent appointment in 2019. Though the Norwegian has, arguably, re-built the structure, functioning, and primary objective of the club, fans remain concerned over his ability to improve team performance on the pitch. Various issues regarding coaching, in-game management, footballing philosophy, and tactics continue to remain contentious, with pressure likely to build on the manager ahead of a crucial string of fixtures following the international break.
Although United have publicly reiterated their support for Solskjaer amidst the palpable tension around the fan base, the Norwegian’s position is not untenable. Given the manager continues with his modus operandi but fails to improve performances, develop a definitive style of play, and remains unconvincing in his approach, the end could be near with Solskjaer and Manchester United.
Erik Ten Hag (Current Club: Ajax, Netherlands)
Amongst the niche crop of upcoming managers deserving of a comparative step-up from Ajax, Ten Hag is likely to seek an ambitious project following a successful stint in the Eredivisie. The Dutchman boasts immense potential having already won two titles with Ajax and guided them to the Champions League semi-final since his appointment in 2017. Although Ten Hag committed to a new contract earlier this year, Dutchman could seek a new club given his ambition in the near future.
Ten Hag could potentially revive United’s footballing philosophy sharpened under Sir Alex Ferguson, provided Solskjaer is released of his duties. The Dutchman is said to have modelled his football philosophy on the likes of Johann Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, with whom he worked at Bayern Munich as the reserve team boss. Ten Hag’s commitment to developing a high-pressing system, nurtured by quick passing, possession-based football, and willingness to attack down the flanks could solve many of the existing concerns surrounding United’s performances on the pitch.
The Dutchman is also known to be flexible in his approach, is a proven manager at the highest level, and is likely to draw a clear vision for success at a new club. Further, provided he is seen as Solskjaer’s successor, Ten Hag could likely revive the career of his former Ajax player, Donny Van De Beek, at United – a promising signing seen as a fringe player under the current manager.
Zinedine Zidane (Current Club: N/A)
Amongst the first names on the list of possible replacements of Solskjaer, the Frenchman has already shown his capability, having guided Real Madrid to three consecutive Champions League titles during his latest stint as manager. In Zidane, United will likely have a manager capable of managing big names within the dressing room and a coaching set-up comprising of those having already tasted success in Spain and across Europe.
Under the Frenchman, United could potentially develop into a team unafraid to confidently pass the ball forward, win the ball higher up the pitch, track back and keep it compact at the back when not in possession. During his successful spell as Real Madrid’s manager, Zidane presided over a team boasting superstars and managed to cultivate a competitive environment; empowering his players, whilst also maintaining fluid approach vis-à-vis formations and footballing philosophy.
Provided Zidane is seen as a successor to Solskjaer, United will have a manager capable of managing a star-studded squad whilst potentially improving performances on the pitch. Though the Frenchman is reportedly in line to be the Paris Saint-Germain or the French National Team’s next manager, an appealing “winning project” such as United’s could prove to be the decisive factor in his decision in the possible future.
Antonio Conte (Current Club: N/A)
A divider amongst the United fan base, on one hand, Conte’s appointment could lead to immediate success at the club, while on the other, the Italian could potentially unstable the foundations laid by Solskjaer, thereby, impeding the course of progress for long-term success at the club. Though the Italian is likely to be the most successful amongst the list of potential successors to Solskjaer, the Italian’s appointment is likely to dampen the spirits of several match-going fans.
Under Conte, the team could potentially develop to challenge across all competitions, however, the Italian’s pragmatic approach will likely dampen the team’s spirit in the long run. The Italian is known to demand and extract the best out of his players, which could likely result in a major overhaul of the current squad and unabated backing from the board in the transfer window. Additionally, though the Italian is likeliest to bring major silverware back to United, he remains the unlikeliest of managers to commit a long-term future at the club.
Conte’s arrival could instantly make United title-contenders for next season given his recent history with club hierarchies, the Italian appointment could have serious repercussions for United’s long-term ambitions across all competitions.