So here is Manchester United, manager-less with the market slim on alternatives after waiting days, weeks, and probably months too long to fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The United man had his apologists amongst fans and even the media. Every excuse put his way is either hopeful, half-hearted, or just an honest attempt to excuse a man who is either the genuine article as a human or the definition of a guy who knows what buttons to push to keep people on his side.
For example, in a span of a few paragraphs, one article lauded Solskjaer for “restoring the club’s pride” after Jose Mourinho’s firing, claiming that United’s second-place finish is the best post-Alex Ferguson without acknowledging that Mourinho’s team finished second the year before Solskjaer took the reins. Is the club’s spirit better than when he took over? For sure. Is the club any better on the pitch despite big signings? Not sure.
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This same post mentions that United were in first place as late as Week 19 last season and that he got them to the Europa League Final against Villarreal as favorites before losing in penalties. But both facts also miss that they didn’t seal the deal once in first after 19 weeks and that they did lose from the favorites’ spot to Unai Emery’s Red Devils.
It’s a reason to cultivate a relationship with the fans and media, something that escaped Mourinho and any number of bosses.
Anyway, what United’s done in keeping Solskjaer in the job until Sunday has been deleterious to a club that could well be contending for a title. Chelsea’s current pace is good for a 91-92 point title winner, a total which would be the second-lowest champion since 2016-17 (The totals by year have been 93, 100, 98, 99, and 86).
The Red Devils would arguably be in a better spot in the table with at least half of the managers in the league, including perhaps one who was fired by one club and hired by another (Dean Smith). All but one of the other managers fired or hired this season (Steve Bruce) arguably have better managerial records than Ole (Daniel Farke, Nuno Espirito Santo, Claudio Ranieiri, Eddie Howe, Xisco).
In short, even without Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane, for now, this team is going to improve dramatically in terms of consistency and tactics.
And the shame here is that it’s not on Solskjaer for taking or keeping the job. Maybe there was fear of hiring another strong personality from the hierarchy, but Antonio Conte was there for them and had familiarity with United’s center forward and best defender. They didn’t push the button.
What changes will a new Manchester United manager make?
Remember when Thomas Tuchel took over for Frank Lampard and just put in Chelsea’s experienced players more often than the young bucks and won the Champions League and it felt so easy and logical?
It’s not quite that easy here. The best unused players are largely young, but that could be good news since Solskjaer was able to get very little out of two players who starred at big clubs prior to their big money switches.
Expect Jadon Sancho to get every chance to succeed, as well as Donny van de Beek. Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard would love to get chances to show there’s still something for them at Old Trafford, too.
But, will the new boss be brave and experienced enough to sit down Cristiano Ronaldo from time-to-time as the Portuguese megastar is still producing but at age 36 has played:
- 342 of 360 possible Champions League minutes
- 734 of 810 possible Premier League minutes
That’s a lot for anyone. Don’t tell Fergie. Or tell him, but tell him to let someone other than him loom over the next hire.
Who could be candidates to be the next Manchester United manager?
Zinedine Zidane — The frontrunner. Would probably be lauded as a hire but still has only one at one club that spends as much as anyone on earth (Real Madrid).
Ernesto Valverde — Actually a really interesting one, having won La Liga in his two full seasons at Barcelona and winning La Liga manager’s award during time at Athletic Bilbao.
Ronald Koeman — Experienced in making excuses for a poorly-recruited and underachieving major club.
Lucien Favre — Hasn’t had a lot of success or been in a manager’s chair since December 2020 when he was fired by Borussia Dortmund.
Frank Lampard — Stop laughing. Young PL big names get unearned chances all the time.
Nuno Espirito Santo — The Tottenham hire wasn’t a good fit but it would be worth it if he can fix Harry Maguire and choose the right fit for a midfield.
Paulo Fonseca — It’s obligatory to link Paulo Fonseca to open Premier League jobs.
Dunga — The former Brazil national team boss definitely knows how handle a room full of big egos.