Van Nistelrooy replacing Ten Hag is one of next season’s five Football Manager-inspired caretakers

Matt Stead
PSV manager Ruud van Nistelrooy on the touchline
Ruud will be at the wheel soon enough

Ruud van Nistelrooy returning to Manchester United as an assistant is weird until you realise he will replace Erik ten Hag during The Caretaker Season.


Ruud van Nistelrooy at Manchester United
In a sign that they should perhaps lower their sights, Burnley might be about to lose managers to Bayern Munich and Manchester United within a month or so. Van Nistelrooy held talks over replacing Vincent Kompany at Turf Moor but all signs point to the Dutchman returning as part of Erik ten Hag’s new contract.

It seems a curious move on the part of Manchester United’s record European goalscorer. Van Nistelrooy has already been a Netherlands assistant at two major tournaments – the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2020 – before moving into the world of senior management with PSV in March 2022. He left – armed with two domestic cups – in May 2023, citing a lack of support.

This is a step up in club but a step back in terms of the role – unless Van Nistelrooy intends to negotiate a Giggseh clause which stipulates that he must be given it until the end of any given season.

Maybe this is Van Nistelrooy playing the long game, ensuring he is in position to take advantage if Ten Hag cannot engender the improvement his impending new deal demands. Maybe the assistant becomes temporary master when Manchester United lose consecutive games to Leicester and Ipswich in November.

That will be Van Nistelrooy’s moment. He takes over, Rasmus Hojlund suddenly starts scoring hat-tricks every game, the dressing room leaks stop for a bit and he inspires a rousing victory against Trabzonspor in the Europa League knockouts, by which point Rio Ferdinand tells Sir Jim Ratcliffe to give Van Nistelrooy a blank contract as Ruud is handling the gear stick.

Manchester United, once again, are back.


Emmanuel Pogatetz at Crystal Palace
One of four assistant coaches appointed to the backroom staff of a rather greedy Oliver Glasner in February, Pogatetz outranks Ronald Brunmayr and Michael Angerschmid for name value and Paddy McCarthy in terms of not spending almost all of his post-playing career being told about the importance of double training sessions and two banks of four by Roy Hodgson.

Once Palace go top of the Premier League by the end of September, with Golden Boot-winner Jean-Philippe Mateta inspiring swaggering victories over Brentford, West Ham, Chelsea, Leicester, Manchester United and Everton, Bayern Munich will come calling again after Vincent Kompany signs James Trafford and guides them to the bottom of the Bundesliga and an early DFB-Pokal exit to some amateur side in the sixth tier.

Palace will relent, accepting £200m in compensation and placing Pogatetz in interim charge. Mad Dog won’t see out the year.

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Mile Jedinak at Spurs
It feels like a Jedi mind trick to see a former Palace stalwart as part of Ange Postecoglou’s support team in north London, but after fulfilling a couple of roles at Aston Villa it was decided that Jedinak would be drafted in to help his countryman settle in the Premier League.

Jedinak described the opportunity to work alongside his ex-Australia manager as a “no-brainer” and said that he is “enjoying every single moment” of a position which regrettably does involve some input on defending set-pieces, which did not go particularly well last season.

But once Postecoglou resigns after being told he cannot keep playing Emerson Royal at centre-half, Jedinak will have to step in. That then gives ample time for Spurs to fire another caretaker manager and let The Prophecy come to pass: Ryan Mason as interim Spurs boss for half a dozen games every other April.


Adam Lallana at Southampton
After the boring sensibility of Luton and Burnley – serves them right – in sticking with obviously talented but fundamentally inexperienced managers in charge of substandard squads when Sam Allardyce was *right there*, it will be great fun to see Russell Martin’s Southampton infernally pass their way to 21 points next season.

Saints will have no such qualms in pressing the panic button. They ran through three managers in their last Premier League season and we all still miss Nathan Jones. While Martin will be given time, the axe will swing eventually.

His coaching staff are unfortunately not nearly eye-catching enough. Matt Gill does not evoke the same emotion as an assistant rising to caretaker as Tony Parkes. There is no heritage. The vibes are all wrong.

A left-field shout might instead be Lallana, who has returned to St Mary’s on a free transfer, is nearly five years younger than the manager he has left behind at Brighton, and who has spent time shadowing England U21 manager Lee Carsley during international breaks, while acting as interim player-coach for about ten days at the Amex between the Graham Potter and Roberto De Zerbi reigns. That’s the sort of status and lustre Matt Gill simply cannot offer.


Mark Noble at West Ham
Despite pushing for Ruben Amorim before the Sporting manager’s “mistake” of a meeting with West Ham
, Noble will throw his entire shirt-tucked weight behind Julen Lopetegui as the replacement for David Moyes – of that there is no doubt.

It does not feel as though the 37-year-old is made for those boardroom machinations, the politicking, backstabbing and manoeuvring which so often occupies such executive spaces.

But few still in east London truly know the West Ham Way and there will come a time when a clamour for Noble to take the reins starts to undermine Lopetegui, leaving the Hammers with little choice but to put the sporting director in charge.

He will do the best he can for This Football Club for as long as he is asked (by himself). But also take them further into the relegation zone before making a panicked, grovelling call to Moyes.