Man Utd manager Game of Thrones: Pros and cons for four coach candidates
Holly Thackeray | April 25, 2016
The Manchester United coaching crown is one of the most sought-after stations in football, promising a global fanbase and brand, packed stadium tours, a fairly patient board by today’s climate, and spades of prestige as well as money to spend.
According to reports, there are three options for the Red Devils this summer – appoint an outsider (with Jose Mourinho and Maurico Pochettino most linked), stick with current king Louis van Gaal or promote heir Ryan Giggs from within.
So, Coral writers sat down long and hard to come up with a list of pros and cons for those four coaching candidates in the Red Devils’ very own game of thrones.
So, with banners held high and the clash for the crown set to commence, who will win the battle to sit on The Theatre of Dreams’ throne?
‘The Special One’ is in the midst of a media storm surrounding reports he has signed, or is set to, on the dotted line for Man Utd. It seems nobody can quite make up their mind on this on-again-off-again rumoured football relationship.
Camps for and against the suave Portuguese turning out at Old Trafford next term are equally passionate, but which side of support has the most valid points?
It goes without saying that Mourinho (odds-on 1/3 with Coral to be next Man Utd manager) is a serial winner and over-achiever, from his incredible haul and Champions League triumph at Porto to eventual career high point of securing the first-ever Italian treble with Inter Milan.
Currently, United are 15/2 joint-fifth favourites to win the 2016/17 Premier League title, but those odds would surely rocket if the 53-year-old was anointed next Man Utd manager, such is his reputation, and opponents would again fear visiting The Theatre of Dreams.
The superstar gaffer is also somewhat of a league specialist, as in 13 full seasons, the plucky coach has lifted eight top-tier titles across Europe. Would trophies be guaranteed? Not quite but as good as, he knows what it takes to dominate in England.
Memorable Mourinho performances, not on the sidelines but from his players on the pitch, include Chelsea’s tactically tight and determined win at Anfield in 2014 to prevent Liverpool from winning the Premier League (another string to his bow being that he is not so popular with United’s Northwest rivals).
While, who could forget how his Inter outfit found themselves in the 2010 Champions League final? The Nerazzurri were tactically perfect in their semi-final second leg away at Barcelona, despite going down controversially to 10 men.
Inter’s Barca resistance:
“The style Inter play is the blood style not the skin style,” Mourinho said. “When the moment of leave everything on the pitch comes, we don’t leave the skin, we leave the blood.” With Inter Milan his most perfect example of players dancing to his tune, a little of that diligence and discipline would go down a treat at Old Trafford.
We’ve heard it all before, and it is beginning to get tiresome. A supposed downside to Mourinho is his defensive football, or “a sh*t hanging from a stick”” as it was once famously dubbed by Jorge Valdano. Yet his propensity to counter-attack, could actually herald a return to United’s swift wingplay traditions.
Sometimes, particularly in the bigger matches where Mourinho excels however, it would not be pretty, so football purists may indeed want to look elsewhere for thrills when it comes to crunch time.
While, youth is another stick regularly used to beat ‘The Special One’ with and it is regularly trotted out in this saga, with Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku recent examples of his failure in this regard.
Should critics cast an eye over his stints with Inter and Real Madrid, however, they’ll find then youngsters such as Davide Santon, Mario Balotelli, Alvaro Morata and Jese Rodriguez were blooded and often trusted by the Iberian tactician.
Again, there will be no youth for the sake of it, but if the Red Devils’ next generation are good enough they will get games.
Perhaps the most pertinent con is the furore surrounding Mourinho’s football persona, with his seeming ability to avoid giving controversial quotes on opponents to the press and becoming embroiled in off-field politics and camp unrest. Man Utd are a club seeking their next Sir Alex Ferguson and, having yet to stay anywhere more than three terms, Mourinho and the sideshow he attracts may not mean he is the man for longevity.
Man of the moment Pochettino (3/1 to be next Red Devils boss) is surely the most en vogue option right now, having made himself the poster boy for Premier League possession-based and high energy pressing football philosophies.
Unlike Roberto Martinez at Everton, though, the Argentine focuses on attack as well as defence, and boasts a balance many in the red half of Manchester would be envious of.
Young and hungry, Pochettino, a protege of the mercurial and quirky Marcelo Bielsa, has Tottenham trading blows with the heavyweights, and is still in contention for what would be a miraculous league title.
There is certainly a buzz around the 44-year-old that could reinvigorate the Red Devils, while potential player pulling power for the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli is perhaps another factor in the pro camp’s thinking.
What makes his rise even more remarkable, is Pochettino’s preference to play youth, with Kane and Alli’s ascents under his watch just one of many examples. And, while Mourinho may want to splash the cash, this coach has shown he can work with what he already has – with improvements in Erik Lamela, Eric Dier and Kyle Walker’s performances some of many reasons to recommend. Former Southampton protege Morgan Schneiderlin for example, might just be a different player under the Tottenham man’s tutelage again.
Sure Pochettino is certainly fashionable, and has shown at Saints and Spurs he can win pretty, but the South American would certainly cost a significant sum of pennies to prise from the clutches of Daniel Levy.
For such a price, the Red Devils would want to see a return in silverware, of which the coach has none to show yet. In short, his CV is still under construction, meaning recruitment could be a risk, especially with so much more money at stake. Should Claudio Ranieri instead lift the league – would pundits be clamouring for the Italian to takeover? Hardly.
The still green gaffer is rather unproven in comparison to his peers, and his record is not spotless either, as his first managerial position at Espanyol saw him depart as coach when the Catalans were rock bottom of La Liga. Should the Red Devils roll the dice?
Louis van Gaal
Sometimes the safest thing to is continue with your planned path and despite all the drama, as far as reports suggest, much-maligned current Man Utd manager Van Gaal is still potentially on track for a top four finish and an FA Cup final which could see him cling to the throne a little longer.
The Dutchman did not take over a squad in great shape, and has propelled them from seventh position back to competing for European places. Credit where credit is due.
While, what Van Gaal is most commended for is his youth policy, an attribute that still endears him to some Red Devils supporters.
There have been countless debuts under the ex-Clockwork Orange coach and while some claim they were only necessitated by injury strife, others suggest it was always his plan to make space for fledgling stars by axing squad players.
Whatever the outcome when the 64-year-old steps down, he will always be appreciated for integrating Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Jesse Lingard and Timothy Fosu-Mensah into the set-up.
For every pro there is a con, and Van Gaal’s man management, particularly of younger players, falls into this category. For every Rashford goal there is strange treatment of top prospects such as Andreas Pereira and Adnan Januzaj, the farming out of James Wilson, disappearance of Guillermo Varela and Joe Riley and the hauling off of Fosu-Mensah at only half-time in the FA Cup semi-final.
While, even senior squad members have not been spared by an often scatter-gun selection, and subsequent dropping, process, with Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera, Memphis Depay and Matteo Darmian never quite allowed to settle. Though even when under-performing, some such as Wayne Rooney always seem to be shoe-horned in.
Perhaps an under-lying issue here is also the fact that Van Gaal has just one-year left on his contract anyway, and seems poised to retire afterwards. Should he really be handed the keys to the purse again? For what it may cost to settle his contract, United could save money in the end by avoiding further splurges on square pegs in round holes.
Anthony Martial aside, the likes of Memphis, Angel Di Maria, Marcos Rojo, Radamel Falcao (on loan) do not speak of a coherent transfer policy, while some squad outgoings such as Javier Hernandez, Michael Keane and Danny Welbeck have been senseless. Another off-season transfer campaign like the last two could indeed prove costly.
A lifer. The romantic notion of rearing a youth player from teenager to superstar to manager seems to be a strong force at Old Trafford, and playing legend Giggs (11/2 chance to be next Old Trafford tactician) is most likely on this list to provide that sought-after loyalty and longevity.
Having reportedly turned down Inter Milan as a player and Swansea City while assistant coach, Giggs seems to be in this for the long game and certainly appears to have widespread support from influential figures – which could make any transition that much smoother.
As the last visible reminder in Manchester of the glorious and golden era of Sir Alex Ferguson, and perhaps most prominent member (at least at Old Trafford) of the Class of ’92, on paper Giggs is perfect for the position.
Enthusiastic about the youth academy, when in charge Giggs gave debuts to Wilson and Tom Lawrence, and supposedly made recommendations about Rashford and co, thus proving he would honour United’s traditions.
A handful of interim games in charge, and two wins from four, do not a Premier League standard manager make, and nor does being associated with the disastrous reign of David Moyes and failures of the Van Gaal vintage instill confidence of coaching nous.
There appears to be an overriding feeling that Giggs needs to earn his gaffer stripes elsewhere, lest he follow Gary Neville’s Valencia example of taking on too much too soon in an unstable situation.
Giggs’ legend and legacy at United is too important to tarnish by throwing him in at the deep-end and hoping for the best, and the scorer of arguably the best FA Cup goal of all time may have wowed crowds and rivals in his heydey, but that is no guarantee he has the personality to inspire from the dugout or transfer attraction for expensive targets who may prefer proven Pep Guardiola or Antonio Conte instead.