Manchester United are in full crisis mode. There is no way out for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He may limp on for some time yet, such is the stubborn refusal of the United board to admit their error in believing he is the next Sir Alex Ferguson, but we have passed the point of no return now.
Losing 5-0 at home to Liverpool is a result for the ages. But more important than that, United completely lost discipline (they should have had three red cards before Paul Pogba was sent off), suggesting Solskjaer is losing his grip on the dressing room, while the tactical approach they are now forced to take with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the line has ended the manager’s ability to pull a big result out of the bag.
The deep-lying counter-attacking approach doesn’t work with Ronaldo in the team, but Solskjaer simply does not have the tactical acumen to deploy a more adventurous system. And so, we are in the endgame.
Here’s a look at the five main candidates to replace Solskjaer – and why United ought to look further down the list of favourites when picking his successor.
Zidane is too much of a Galactico manager
There are huge question marks over whether Zinedine Zidane 3.613/5 can work outside of Real Madrid, the only club he has managed so far. That’s because his gravitas and iconic status within the Bernebau appears to have had a major influence on how he roused the club to win those Champions League titles. Without that historic connection, his broad-strokes tactical approach may be ineffective.
Zidane was able to build a new team of Galacticos, managing his stars with a defence-first strategy in the latter stages of the Champions League and a meandering pattern in La Liga. Real didn’t really stand for much; didn’t really play with the sharp tactical detail we see from the best three clubs in English football, and while it might sound appealing to reunite Zidane with Ronaldo it would only exacerbate their current problems.
United need someone with a clear vision and a commanding style of football, not a manager who will continue the pattern of individualism at the club. That might work in one-off Champions League ties when you have Ronaldo at his peak, and it might work in a division with only two super-clubs, but the Premier League is hyper-competitive.
Rodgers’ Liverpool links a big problem
There are generally two types of candidate being linked with the Man Utd job: star names and up-and-coming tacticians. Brendan Rodgers 5.04/1 doesn’t really fall into either camp, and while he would be an interesting choice having come so close to the title as Liverpool manager his historic link with United’s great rival is a huge stumbling block.
Ed Woodward will know that he needs to get the next appointment right and needs to get supporters on side. For that reason alone he is likely to steer clear of an ex-Liverpool manager, even if Rodgers has the tactical brain required to take the job.
Conte’s explosivity too great a risk
United are still wounded by how things ended under Jose Mourinho, whose toxicity is part of the reason why so manyy have stuck by Solskjaer for this long. The last thing supporters want is someone explosive, someone who may compain about the structure of the club or the money available to spend. Things under Antonio Conte 6.511/2 would almost certainly end badly, and no matter how much silverware came before, that is not something United wish to entertain.
When you factor in his unusually high wage demands, and the fact he pulled out of talks with Tottenham Hospur because he wanted full control of transfers, it seems like a bad fit. On the pitch, there is also a tactical issue here. United want to play adventurous attacking football, as Solskjaer so often alludes to, and yet Conte would play a more conservative system – and in a back three.
There is too much attacking talent at Man Utd to deploy Conte’s 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, or indeed to introduce a counter-attacking approach.
Pochettino unavailable and diminished by PSG issues
Things have gone pretty poorly for Mauricio Pochettino 7.06/1 at Paris Saint-Germain, which might alone be enough to make United think twice about appointing the former Tottenham manager. His struggle to get PSG’s superstars playing well together does not bode well for a team now dominated by the conundrum of Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, and Edinson Cavani up front.
United are quickly becoming a Premier League version of PSG, and without a major overhaul in transfer strategy Pochettino might struggle to make it work. His tactics are ideal, of course, and indeed the Argentine ought to have been approach two years ago. But that ship has sailed, for now, and in fact PSG are unlikely to even allow Pochettino to talk to United should the job become available.
Ten Hag an intriguing choice this summer
Given that there are no obvious high-profile candidates that would fit the bill, United would be wise to look further down the list towards a manager with intricate tactical expertise who can modernise the club. Ajax’s Erik Ten Hag 11.010/1, who has taken the Dutch club to consecutive league titles and a Champions League semi-final in 2019, clearly has a lot of potential.
There is a lot to admire about the way Ajax are run as a club, and certainly their aesthetic possession football would entertain the Old Trafford crowd, but more intriguingly Ten Hag’s current boss is Edwin van der Sar. The former United goalkeeper has been widely praised for his role in Ajax’s revival; could United go for a double swoop, bringing Van der Sar and Ten Hag in to reorganise from top to bottom?
The downside is Ten Hag’s lack of experience at a club anything like United’s level, which brings its own unique challenges – as Solskjaer himself is learning. But it is time to think outside of the box, and Ten Hag has all the hallmarks of an elite coach in the making.