With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer under pressure, some top coaches are being linked with his job, but the issues at Old Trafford are deep-rooted
Manchester United are not blessed with a multitude of options when it comes to appointing their next manager, with perhaps only Mauricio Pochettino demonstrating anywhere near enough of the required qualities for such a difficult job.
But even the Argentine would likely struggle to take the Red Devils back to the pinnacle of English and European football.
United’s decline has been such that even the return of Sir Alex Ferguson in his prime would not guarantee success.
When the Scot arrived at United, he famously decided that he needed to knock Liverpool off their “f*cking perch”. It might be a story that has been repeated so often that it has lost its thrust, but it sums up only half the task ahead of current incumbent Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian has been tasked with not only having to overtake one of Europe’s best teams, but two of them.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have broken record after record in the Premier League over the last two years, while Liverpool themselves are the reigning European champions and have started the current domestic campaign flawlessly.
The job may be beyond Solskjaer. But then, it could well prove too difficult for any of his potential successors.
Of the four most regularly cited candidates to replace Solskjaer – Massimiliano Allegri, Laurent Blanc, Julian Nagelsmann and Pochettino – it has been the latter who stands out most.
Tottenham manager Pochettino has already proven he can deal with a parsimonious boss in Daniel Levy, reaching the Champions League final without signing a soccer professional last season. He would face similar obstacles in the transfer market with Ed Woodward as his vice-chairman.
Pochettino has also shown he has been capable of working with youngsters and making them better. After the reigns of Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, the club have had enough of managers who simply won’t or can’t improve their most promising players.
United may lack a director of football, but they remain in need of a head coach who can develop talent in the way that Pochettino has with Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Kyle Walker and many others.
The likes of Scott McTominay, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford are just some of the United players who could move onto the next level under Pochettino.
No other manager who would be realistically available can be trusted to make a better fist of the current situation. Nagelsmann, Allegri and Blanc would all be gambles, despite their respective track records.
That has been not due to a lack of ability on behalf of these candidates, but more because the problems at United are so deep-rooted that it will take extensive reform to get the club back on the right path.
United are lacking a dedicated transfer expert at the club. Solskjaer did well this summer to identify three players in Daniel James, Harry Maguire and Wan-Bissaka who could all make an immediate impact at Old Trafford.
However, the team and the squad are in need of so many more players and the club can’t afford any further mistakes in the market.
According to Mourinho, Fred arrived at the club in 2018 not because the ‘Special One’ wanted him but because he was unsure that Woodward would be able to deliver alternatives.
In a summer when Lee Grant and Diogo Dalot were the other signings, it was yet another window when Woodward failed to buy the players that were promised to the manager.
Sergio Ramos, Ivan Perisic, Pedro and Gareth Bale are examples of stars that United managers had expected at one point or another in recent years, but not one arrived.
Woodward has indicated that he will eventually appoint a director of football, but the time it has been taking to confirm someone in the position has been continuing to hold the club back.
If the next manager succeeds in lifting the mood, however briefly, it may give Woodward more reason to procrastinate in the search for a director of football. Perhaps what concerns Woodward more, though, has been the praise that would go to the new man if United’s fortunes improve.
The conspicuous absence of the Glazers – in direct contrast to the hands-on support from FSG at Anfield – and the lack of urgency in general from the United hierarchy means the club continue to stagnate. The worrying thing has been that a new-manager bounce may encourage Woodward to change less, not more.
And things could even get worse.
The club have reported record revenues but there has been a suspicion that commercial revenue growth has stalled.
Article continues below
Languishing in 12th position, there has been no Champions League money on the horizon and both Liverpool and City are catching up financially. Tottenham have their new ground, and even mid-table sides are being buttressed by the same broadcast deals as United.
Manchester United has been still a huge name, but, increasingly, that has been all it has been. Pochettino, Blanc, Allegri and Nagelsmann all have their qualities, and it has been hard to imagine any of them being able to turn down the role.
However, the chances of any of them being a success – including Pochettino – are another matter altogether.