The Next Manager of Manchester United: Power Ranking the Two Horse Race

Solskjaer and Pochettino are the two clear frontrunners for the biggest job in football..

Analyzing the managers picked by the oddsmakers to take over at Manchester United was my first pitch to our editor-in-chief Brent Maximin when I was brought on to the site this fall. Ever since, it’s been my baby and I’ve worked and researched to provide incites as we all prepared for José Mourinho’s inevitable demise.

As the dust settled around Mourinho’s sacking, it was widely assumed that Tottenham’s man, Mauricio Pochettino was the heir apparent to take the helm of Manchester United. Poch would continue to play coy throughout the spring while United’s caretaker manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, kept the house from burning down. Names like Zinedine Zidane and Massimiliano Allegri were also casually thrown around, but Poch dominated the airwaves as the pundits’ and oddsmakers’ pick.

HOWEVER, we’re six matches into Solskjaer’s tenure and the Norwegian, like a 93rd minute game winner in the Champions League Final, has completely upended expectations. The baby-faced assassin is evolving from the baby-faced manager into, perhaps, the baby-faced savior according to some of his most zealous admirers.

We find ourselves looking at the managerial search almost like a pseudo-title race as the men pegged to be the next United gaffer manage their ways through the second half of their league, domestic and European competitions. Let’s just hope the debate between OGS and Pochettino doesn’t consume us all.

So, without further adieu, let’s weed through the most recent crop of matches, hot takes and betting odds to power rank who gets the job.

The Frontrunners

1a. Mauricio Pochettino (William Hill: 2-1 odds)

Pros: Without rehashing the entire piece analyzing Mauricio Pochettino as the next United Manager, the positives of Pochettino is that he is a builder. He has proven at Southampton and at Tottenham that, despite limited resources, he can assemble a squad capable of consistent runs in both the Premier League and Champions League. The thought of Pochettino having the funds to build his squad without Daniel Levy’s vice grip on the purse strings is worthy of that one Vince McMahon gif.

Cons: The man hasn’t won a trophy. OK. That’s out of the way now. The other thing working against Pochettino is that his best player and one of his other top 5 players are going to miss significant matches because of injury and international duties (#FreeSonaldo). If Tottenham experiences a significant slide down the table or an unceremonious exit out of the Champions League, detractors will point to that as a managerial deficiency.

Likelihood: As of Jan. 22, 2019, Solskjaer carries better odds than Pochettino to take over. However, Poch is reportedly Woodward’s guy, and that fact cannot be discounted as United continues to operate without a director of football and Woodward continues to make the big decisions.

Poch’s appeal as the next manager of United has taken a hit over recent weeks with a truly ugly loss to Wolverhampton that effectively took Spurs out of the title race. However, despite the 0-1 loss at Wembley to Manchester United, one could argue — Mourinho definitely would — that Spurs were the better side in the match. Poch’s men shelled the goal for an entire half and would’ve stormed to a three or four goal lead had David De Gea not been, you know, David De Gea.

As long as Pochettino is only grandstanding with all of his comments about wanting to stay at Tottenham or moving to Real Madrid, it’s very likely that Poch will be the guy — as long as Levy doesn’t expect United to shell out nine figures to get Poch out of his contract.

1b. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (William Hill: 6-4 odds)

Pros: If you don’t recognize the pros of hiring Solskjaer after this seven match run, you haven’t been paying attention. The lads are scoring goals on goals on goals, they’re playing with pace and tenacity, and they’re responding well to Solskjaer and his all-star team of assistants in Mike Phelan, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna.

Cons: Detractors point to OGS’ term at Cardiff that ended in relegation, and they also point to United playing against abysmal sides since OGS took over. To hell with those detractors. This blog is named The Busby Babe and OGS just surpassed that man’s record with seven straight wins to start his United managerial career. With each passing week, the cons to Solskjaer taking over continue to fade away.

Likelihood: I mused last week that a Cold War-esque proxy battle between United influencers was taking place at the club. OGS is clearly Sir Alex Ferguson’s pick to manage the club while reports peg Poch as Woodward’s guy.

If OGS continues on his current path of success, it’ll be impossible for the leadership to hire anyone else. A top 4 finish, silverware in the FA Cup, and/or, god forbid, a major run in the Champions League will see Poch forced to honor his statement that he wants to stay at Tottenham long term.

The Original Frontrunners

3. Zinedine Zidane (William Hill: 9-1 odds)

Pros: You know that con that everyone throws around in regards to Mauricio Pochettino? Zinedine Zidane doesn’t have that problem. As I broke down in a previous piece, Zidane’s road to trophies was paved with first-class man management and sound tactics to get the best out of his players.

Cons: Zizou stepped up as Real Madrid manager, surrounded by a roster bursting at the seams with world-class players. The big question mark for Zidane will concern how he will handle a United team that has talent but doesn’t have the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modrić, Marcelo, Isco, Toni Kroos, Raphaël Varane, Sergio Ramos, etc.

Likelihood: Zidane is sitting in third place right now. The odds favorite back in the early fall has fallen adrift as reports of Pochettino being Woodward’s guy surfaced and as Solskjaer transformed United from a broken down 1990 Honda Civic into an Aston Martin.

Zidane’s advantage is that he can’t fail. Poch must navigate three competitions without Harry Kane for more than a month and OGS will have to eventually overcome some unforeseeable hardships. Pending how those two men handle their business in the spring, French Lex Luthor might just slide into those United DM’s in the summer.

4. Massimiliano Allegri (William Hill: 10-1 odds)

Pros: Max Allegri was also the subject of our initial series exploring the next Manchester United manager. As previously mentioned in that article, Allegri has sustained Juventus as an Italian and European power as it steamrolled its way to Scudetto after Scudetto. Watching Allegri in Netflix’s First Team: Juventus, it’s clear the Italian’s main focus is building success through the domestic league and taking that momentum into European competition. Juve has been a major player in the last three Champions League tournaments and that’s in large part credited to Allegri’s tactics and ability to get the best out of Juve’s mouth-watering talent on the pitch.

Juventus is strong on the defensive end and Allegri would work to rebuild United’s back end to better compete against the top clubs. Surely, Allegri would provide a fascinating counter to Jurgen Klopp’s and Pep Guardiola’s styles of play.

Cons: Allegri was knocked out of the Champions League in two straight finals and one quarter-final — all against Zidane’s Madrid. If you’re a glass half-empty person, then Allegri’s failure to raise that silverware will turn you off as you expect United to reassert itself as a European power in the near future. Of course, if you’re a half-full person, then the fact that Allegri got his team to those points in the tournament is an encouraging sign for international success.

Likelihood: Juventus are positively smashing Serie A right now and have the second best odds to win the Champions League behind Manchester City according to Oddschecker. Allegri has the Old Lady playing some of its best football, and he has Ronaldo as a “break in case of emergency” player to save Juve in the Coppa Italia and Champions League knockout stages. Therefore, the odds seem very low that Allegri will actually become the next manager.

Simply put, a collapse severe enough to make Allegri a free agent would likely damage his chances of slotting in at United.

The Dark Horses

5. Gareth Southgate (William Hill: 10-1 odds)

Pros: Gareth Southgate rocketed from Sam Allardyce’s replacement to cult hero after taking England through the group stage at the 2018 World Cup. An unlikely semi-finals appearance cemented Southgate as a national hero that was rewarded by Her Majesty with an Order of the British Empire. Of course, the last managers of Manchester United that carried an OBE were Sir Alex Ferguson OBE — again, put all the respeck on his name — and Ryan Giggs who also deserves all of the respeck. BUT, I’m simply making an observation and not a comparison, SO DO NOT @ ME.

Southgate’s dedication to the three-piece suit is nothing short of magnificent as he is likely to be the best dressed manager on the touchline at any given match so watch out Guardiola’s hoodie-cardigan and Pochettino’s all black Diego Simeone knock-off suit,

Cons: While Southgate has led his team to success in a tournament environment that would come in handy during the domestic and European cups, woof, do you remember his time with Middlesbrough? Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Bro. You literally just talked about OGS crashing out of the Prem with Cardiff.” While that is correct, OGS is currently managing United and proving that he can win with both the team and in the league so it’s a moot counterpoint.

Likelihood: If OGS was considered the dark horse to take over as caretaker manager, then, Southgate is the dark horse to take the permanent role.

In the ultimate “where the hell did that come from” moment from the weekend, Southgate’s name was inexplicably linked with the United job in the moments leading to kickoff between United and Tottenham. The country and the FA are likely to want to keep Southgate, but, considering recent history, we shouldn’t count out any dark horses in the race to get the permanent position. Still, there are better managers to take the position that sit higher than Southgate on this list.

6. Lucien Favre (William Hill: 25-1 odds)

Pros: Tactically, Favre’s proving to be a genius in the Bundesliga this season as his squad is able to overload opponents or make comebacks. Dortmund lead the Bundesliga in comeback victories and in goals from substitutes.

Favre has proven an ability to morph wingers and attacking midfielders with pace into lethal goal scorers by putting them into positions that allow them to blow past defenders. Marco Reus is on a tear this season under Favre, and the last time Reus set the Bundesliga on fire, he was managed by Favre at Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Considering the attacking talent that Manchester United has, Favre would have an abundance of players to match the roles of Reus, Jadon Sancho, Max Philipp and Paco Alcacer.

Cons: Before his time at BVB, Favre took cellar dwellers and mid-table clubs into top four positions in both the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 while also managing in the Champions League. However, he is only in his first year at Dortmund which marks his biggest club managed to date, and some will be uneasy to take a risk on a guy with middling experience at a big club.

Likelihood: Favre’s inclusion in the betting odds gave me cause for pause. Borussia Dortmund are steamrolling the Bundesliga with a nice collection of veteran and youth players. Die Schwarzgelben are six points ahead of mega-club FC Bayern München while scoring eight more goals than the Bavarian giants. Klopp is the last BVB manager to take the step up into the Premier League, and, obviously, that’s worked out really well for Liverpool. Favre’s odds are definitely way outside off some of the other managers mentioned, but he is at least an interesting addition to the list.

The Unlikely

7. Michael Carrick (12-1 odds)

Pros: Carrick was one of United’s most reliable soldiers for the better part of this millenium and has reached the Premier League and European mountaintops. His work ethic and mind for tactics made him a no-brainer to step in as an assistant on both Mourinho’s and Solskjaer’s staff. The players appear to gravitate towards him in warmups and respect him as an authority figure.

Cons: The degree of difficulty for Carrick’s first division managerial debut would be incredibly high despite OGS course correcting the club with Carrick’s help. He could very well be the Manchester United manager one day, but the former skipper might be better served to get his feet wet elsewhere before taking the helm in Manchester.

Likelihood: Carrick’s receiving odds to become the next manager because he’s been involved with United for so long as both a player and as an assistant. He’s more likely to stay on as an assistant than getting a promotion, therefore, it’s currently a suckers bet to think Carrick will run this team during the 2019-20 season. However, I’ll consider placing that bet a decade from now.

8. Diego Simeone (20-1 odds)

Pros: Simeone’s teams are strong defensively and lethal on the counter attack. His success has leaned heavily on his team’s ability to nullify the strengths of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. His tactics translate from the domestic league to tournaments too. Atlético Madrid are a tough out in the Champions League, but, if they do crash out of the group stage, there’s a good chance the team is going to do serious damage in the Europa League. The United board will take solace in the fact that Simeone can deliver success at all levels.

Cons: We just broke up with Mourinho, do we really want our next relationship to be with a tactician that is so similar to our ex? It’s time to move on from grinding out results.

Likelihood: Simeone could fit in both “The Original Frontrunners” and “The Unlikely” categories. The Argentinian has managed Atlético to ridiculous success — including one La Liga title, two Europa League titles and two Champions League Runner Up finishes — over the last eight years.

It’s because of this success that Simeone is very unlikely to arrive at United. His current roster features talents like Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, Jan Oblak and Diego Costa, and the team is in second place in La Liga and in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Simeone has no reason to leave the club to head north.

This Week’s Edition of the Laughable Addition
0. Brendan Rodgers (William Hill: 33-1 odds)

Pros: LOL!

Cons: He’s a former Liverpool manager not named Jurgen Klopp.

Likelihood: Forgive me for taking the piss, but it’s laughable that anyone would give Rodgers odds as he doesn’t have a chance at getting this job. Unless a cataclysmic event occurs between now and the announcement of the next manager, I doubt Rodgers will be making another appearance in our power rankings except for another laugh or two.

So, there you have it. This will be the first of, more than likely, many power rankings of the permanent managerial candidates to take over at Manchester United. The club’s leadership is not in a rush to name a permanent manager so we’ll be debating this subject long after the snow melts and spring flowers bloom.

Solskjaer is holding serve, as of Jan. 22, 2019, after handing his direct competition for the job a loss at Wembley. However, Pochettino’s track record of building solid teams over a longer period of time probably still gives him the edge over Solskjaer in Woodward’s eyes.

Now it’s up to you to have your say.

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