Despite Man United’s comeback against Newcastle, Jose Mourinho’s job is still far from safe. Current betting odds believe the top five replacements are Zidane, Pochettino, Conte, Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc. Even past players such as Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs have been linked with the job but they’re at the bottom of Ed Woodward’s wish list.
Mauricio Pochettino would be a great choice, but his appointment seems unlikely, he’s overseeing a project at Spurs and key players are tied down to long-term contracts. He could be United’s go-to as a longer term successor and would help restore harmony to the dressing room, currently there are a lot of players who despise Mourinho and would love to see him leave.
Carlo Ancelotti is the sort of trophy-winning boss that United would like but he’s only just started at Napoli. Leaving a new team in his home country after such a short time makes very little sense. Zidane, Conte and Blanc however are all out of work currently which would suit United should they need to move before the end of the season.
The most obvious choice in some ways is Conte. He’s a proven winner and has succeeded Jose Mourinho at a club already. He’s accustomed to the Premier League too and knows what’s required to beat a Burnley or Southampton as much as he does Man City or Liverpool. While Conte experimented with a back four at Chelsea, his success there and at his previous club Juventus revolved around a back three, with wing backs pushing up and inside forwards occupying the half spaces and attacking at pace. His defensive system fell back into a 5-4-1 with Kante shielding and looking to break at pace through the ability of players like Eden Hazard. Diego Costa acted as a physical focal point who could also drop intelligently. Conte seems like a fit in some regards there would be issues, Alexis Sanchez is not Hazard and there’s no player that can do Kante’s job. The biggest question mark would be around United’s ability to play Conte’s 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 systems.
Zidane, who is currently taking a sabbatical from football, has real pedigree from his short managerial career. The former Real Madrid boss is certainly box office and a club like United who see off-pitch business as crucial would derive a boost from acquiring Zidane. Juventus gained almost 5 million followers across various social media platforms in the two weeks following Ronaldo’s move to the club. Zidane could have a similar effect for United and there are very few managers who that could be said.
Tactically Zidane’s successful Real Madrid team played as a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-1-2 with Casemiro anchoring, high fullbacks and a pressing system not unlike Mourinho’s. Zidane tended to ask his players to mark passing lanes rather than press as aggressively but there are enough similarities that this would not be a huge change for United’s players to get around. Although there was a perception that Zidane’s mastery at Real Madrid was achieved because of personnel as opposed to tactical finesse Zidane did successfully implement some defensive changes and made good in-game adjustments to his team in crucial fixtures.
Should Mourinho cling on until the summer, the list of replacements could be very different but a mid season departure will certainly restrict Manchester United’s options.