Five candidates to replace Mourinho at Man Utd

Ian Watson

Jose Mourinho has gone. There will be a temporary appointment until the end of the season, but then who will get the permanent post?


Zinedine Zidane
Zidane has won the last three Champions League titles – the first boss ever to do so consecutively – but still there are plenty who remain uncertain of the Frenchman’s coaching credentials. The former Real Madrid boss was seen by some as more of a figurehead or facilitator, one lucky to inherit a supremely talented squad that required minimal direction.

But you don’t achieve what Zidane did with Real merely by being a happy clapper, and the 46-year-old will point to a number of managerial decisions – in-game and over a longer term – that demonstrated more nous than some may give him credit for. Zidane’s serene approach was just what Real required after a few months of Rafael Benitez’s micro-management, and the World Cup winner is one of few individuals who could command the respect of a dressing room full of egos just from reputation alone.

Those circumstances may sound familiar to anyone who has watched United descend into the chaos they currently find themselves. There is plenty of blame to go around for that – Mourinho was the easiest target and the easiest one to remove. The relationship between the manager and a number of his players was broken; many of those individuals in the dressing room, especially the highest profile, will relish a change in leadership and there are few who would not embrace the idea of playing for Zidane.

Paul Pogba idolised Zidane while growing up, while the former midfielder wanted his compatriot to join him at Real Madrid. Woodward has chucked all his chips on red 6 and the effect Zidane could have on the record signing’s wretched form and morale under Mourinho may be at the forefront of the executive vice-chairman’s mind.

Can Zidane build a back four? He inherited the defence upon which Real’s Champions League dominance was built; at United he would be bequeathed Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. United’s forward play is similarly disjointed but the suspicion is that someone – anyone? – could get plenty more out of the attacking talent in the Old Trafford dressing-room.

Appoint Zidane and United enter the unknown – just as they would with anyone. But the France legend undoubtedly carries credentials and the kind of reputation that no one else in the field can match.


Antonio Conte
If Woodward really wanted to stick the boot into Mourinho, then the United chief could fix it so that Conte once again replaced him at a Premier League club.

The former Juventus boss has a track record of taking Mourinho’s teams and helping them rediscover their mojo. Conte’s appointment at Chelsea, five months after Mourinho was axed, was an inspired move, with the Italian wasting no time in moulding a title-winning team.

But Woodward would be wary of what came next. Conte spent the following season falling out with seemingly everyone around him and used the second half of a miserable title defence to goad Chelsea into firing him. Since his exit, many Blues have spoken out about his methods – which perhaps says more about them – but as Mourinho has discovered, the modern game indulges these players, and coaches need to find a way of managing such personalities while massaging and channelling their egotism towards the greater good.

Conte for Mourinho would be like for like. Woodward has been copping grief off Mourinho for the last year; Conte’s evident frustration at his working conditions at Chelsea suggests the Italian would conform no more than the just-axed manager. An outspoken personality with Mourinho or Conte’s drive is perhaps what United need but under Woodward and the Glazer family’s ownership, they will surely not appoint another one?


Laurent Blanc
The Frenchman has two important assets: a United connection and the fact he is available. In fact, Blanc has been available for the entire duration of Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford.

Blanc has been out of the management game since leaving PSG in 2016 after three “wearing” years in Paris. There he won three Ligue 1 titles and a couple of Quadruples, following a championship with Bordeaux. In between, Blanc bossed France for two years, inheriting the shambolic rabble which disgraced the nation at the 2010 World Cup.

The former United defender has spoken of his desire to coach abroad and Blanc was said to be a candidate for the Chelsea role this summer. As his two-year absence suggests, though, Blanc will not take just any job: “I know I’m fussy, only a big club would interest me. If not, I’ll face facts and think of something else.”

Blanc won 11 trophies with PSG and four with Bordeaux by taking a possession-based approach, focusing on his team’s strengths rather than nullifying the opposition. That is to be expected with PSG in Ligue 1, but it may come as a welcome change to United fans weary of watching their side cede impetus to their major rivals in the big games.


Mauricio Pochettino
The obvious question: why would Pochettino swap what he has at Spurs for the mess at Man Utd?

From the outside, the conditions at wherever Tottenham currently call home are far more suited to the Argentinian. After all, he put them in place. Spurs’ success in recent years, albeit in the absence of silverware, is very much Pochettino’s success.

But doubts remain over the club’s willingness to match Pochettino’s drive to take them to the next step and beyond. The manager spoke at the end of last season of the need to be “brave” in order to become “real contenders for big trophies”. By the end of the window, Pochettino’s definition of “brave” had changed somewhat, most likely because he had no choice. Unless the manager sees a clear path forward and an assurance that he will be given the resources to take them down that path, then he may well look elsewhere.

The feeling is that there are only a couple of clubs who could lure Pochettino: Real Madrid and Manchester United. The Red Devils have long courted the 46-year-old and that interest remains as strong as ever. From Pochettino’s perspective, the Old Trafford hotseat would give him the opportunity to mould one of the game’s greatest clubs in his image with the resources he’s unlikely to enjoy at Spurs any time soon. United need Pochettino more than he needs them, which puts him in a fantastic position to negotiate his conditions for taking one of the most prestigious jobs in football.

Woodward is already concerned over the turnover of managers on his watch. Getting rid of Mourinho and making another patch-up appointment similar to his last two does nothing for his reputation, but bringing in Pochettino while selling a long-term vision would be widely lauded as a coup and a feather in Woodward’s cap.


Ryan Giggs
You can’t have a list of potential Man Utd managers without including Giggs. It’s the law, or something…

Few know United better than Giggs. More than 23 years and 672 appearances in the first team give the Welshman an unrivalled perspective of the club’s values and successes.

But knowing how to get them back to the top and implementing the required strategies are different strengths altogether and Giggs can point to little evidence that he possesses the nous to achieve either. The former winger has fallen into the Wales job and making a sustained success of that opportunity would strengthen his credentials considerably. But similarly to 2014 and 2016, 2018 is too soon for Giggs to manage United, especially under the present conditions.


Ian Watson