IAN HERBERT: All roads lead to Mauricio Pochettino with Manchester United showing no interest in Brendan Rodgers and Zinedine Zidane not wanting an Old Trafford move… and Mark Hughes could be the answer as an interim
- Mauricio Pochettino is ready to quit PSG to become Manchester United manager
- United sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday after dismal run of form
- Zinedine Zidane reportedly unwilling to take over at Old Trafford
- United looking to appoint interim manager until end of the season
- Caretaker Michael Carrick will be in charge against Villarreal on Tuesday
Manchester United finally have a clean slate, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer out of the door. But the future seems more convoluted than at any time in the eight years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
The club have appointed a caretaker manager — Michael Carrick — and will then appoint an interim manager, ahead of ultimately hiring a permanent manager.
So what state are they in? What are their options? And what will they do next?
Michael Carrick has been appointed as Manchester United caretaker manager following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday
Did Carrick make a mark on Day one?
Yes. There was an immediate sign that he understood which senior players have major concerns about United’s crisis.
Though he spoke to a number of players one-to-one yesterday, it was notable that he took Bruno Fernandes to one side for a lengthy chat at breakfast, away from the other players in the Carrington canteen.
Could he still be in charge next summer?
Should United win at Villarreal tonight and then beat Chelsea and Arsenal in the space of five days — which is of course extremely unlikely — there will be demands for Carrick to continue. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward loves decisions that might make him Mr Popular and would leap at such a chance.
The former United midfielder will be in charge for the game agains Villarreal on Tuesday
But thoughtful, personable and a club legend though Carrick might be, that would not be a progressive move. Don’t forget he helped deliver the deeply primitive tactical systems which have seen United crash and burn. He was either as oblivious to United’s inadequacy as Solskjaer, or fearful of speaking up to challenge the orthodoxy.
Given that the Norwegian is one of the most humane, collegiate managers we have ever known in the Premier League, it is hard to be convinced that Carrick worried about saying his piece.
Who are the candidates for interim manager?
Zinedine Zidane’s name was immediately touted, though he was not remotely interested.
He is not especially driven by money, he doesn’t believe his English is good enough and his wife is understood not to be keen on such a move either. The 49-year-old is thought to want more time out of the game, six months after ending his second spell at Real Madrid. That’s a bullet dodged for United. Though his English is actually better than many realise, Zidane never really brought any marked improvement in young players during his time at Madrid — and it’s a myth that their football was always brilliant under him.
Zinedine Zidane is available at the moment but is reportedly unwilling to move to England
Who would the best temporary choice be?
Mark Hughes, a playing legend with the club. It will be three years next week since his departure from Southampton began his extended period out of the game, so it would perhaps be easier to persuade him to be a caretaker than it once would have been.
Rafa Benitez was in a similar position, two years out of the game after leaving Inter Milan, when he took over as Chelsea’s stand-in in November 2012. Both parties benefited.
Unlike Solskjaer and Carrick, Hughes would bring a facility to actually coach and tactical strategies. His brief 18 months as Manchester City manager from 2008 should not be an obstruction. City treated him shabbily and he certainly isn’t connected to them.
Mark Hughes has emerged as a potential candidate for the interim manager role
Other ex-United candidates would be Steve Bruce, whose methods left many Newcastle United players deeply sceptical about him, and Laurent Blanc — or ‘Larry White’ as he’s popularly known among United fans.
Blanc is far removed from the English game and it’s hard to see how he would possibly be a safe pair of hands. United’s close boardroom links with Ajax make a move for Erik ten Hag an easy one, though Ten Hag has not been approached.
Would an interim boss put United in limbo?
Yes. It could impact on United’s work in the January transfer window, where a defensive midfielder, cover at right back and a new, young centre forward are wanted. But any interim boss must remove the Solskjaer coaching staff who have become a major problem.
Above all, Kieran McKenna — hired from the Tottenham Under 23 set-up and promoted by Jose Mourinho when coaches were leaving United — does not command respect.
There is a feeling that Kieran McKenna (first left) does not command respect from players
Players feel McKenna, who became a dominant figure under Solskjaer, is dry and school-teacherly in his delivery and privately wondered how he had risen to such a position of power under the Norwegian. Some at Tottenham are also surprised by his elevation to a key United first-team role.
Does Ronaldo want Spain boss Luis Enrique?
Luis Enrique responded to this idea by asking, ‘Is it April Fools’ Day today?’ and there is categorically no chance of it happening.
Good news for Cristiano Ronaldo — because Enrique demands that strikers operate the high press, which is precisely what Ronaldo and others in this United team don’t do.
Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui, whose team are flying, would be a more achievable permanent target if United really went for it but he is currently so popular at his club that he is virtually bomb-proof. His grasp of English is also minimal.
What chance of luring Rodgers now?
This does not seem to be something United are showing any wish to do. Brendan Rodgers, who has publicly stated his commitment to Leicester, is thought to have been led to believe that United are only looking for a temporary appointment.
Brendan Rodgers has publicly stated he remains committed to Leicester City
Which brings us to Pochettino…
As Sportsmail revealed yesterday, the notion of getting Mauricio Pochettino into Old Trafford now, rather than waiting until the summer, is possible.
Contrary to some reports, his relationship with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain is fine, though it is clear to him that the club’s owners are only interested in the investment that will bring them a Champions League trophy — and not the kind in the future which excites him.
He has very good reasons to return to England, with his wife still based in north London and his son, Maurizio, at Watford.
Though Pochettino didn’t want the idea of United’s immediate appeal to come out in the week he brings PSG here to face Manchester City, he does feel he can put his mark on the club in the way he can’t at the French giants. He has always had Ferguson’s vote.
Mauricio Pochettino could reportedly quit PSG to take over at Manchester United
So, what will United do next?
There was no phone contact whatsoever with Pochettino before the weekend, when the frantic search for managerial options came while Woodward and managing director Richard Arnold watched the Watford game away from Vicarage Road, on television.
But the prospect of United spending yet more millions on a temporary manager and lurching into an even deeper abyss, if their decline continues on its present trajectory, points to the need to move for the Argentine immediately.
United’s managing director Richard Arnold (left) and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward will be in chagr o
He is tied to PSG until the summer of 2023, though the grip on him seems materially weaker than when United sought to bring him from Tottenham after sacking Mourinho, three years ago.
Woodward has never been cautious about spending a fortune on average players: from £47million on Fred to £18m on Alex Telles. If Jadon Sancho is worth £73m, then so is Pochettino.
There is a need to act quickly. Though Carrick’s quiet chats were welcomed yesterday, the prevailing view of the players is still that United have no Plan B.
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