It has been a tumultuous few weeks for Manchester United and their supporters, coming off the back of two consecutive losses in which a José Mourinho side has conceded six goals.
Supporters showed at the end of a gruelling and uncomfortable 3-0 loss to Tottenham last Monday evening that they are still with the manager by returning the applause given to them by Mourinho; but patience will wear thin if there is not a considerable upturn in performances and results.
Luckily for Manchester United, the season is only three games deep. There’s still plenty to play for and a long, competitive campaign to be carried out in full. Mourinho’s next game takes place at Turf Moor, where they will face a tired-looking Burnley side who have just been knocked out of European competition to Olympiacos.
The Clarets are yet to register a win this season, drawing once and losing twice to opposition they should be overcoming. With a depleted squad and resources waning thanks to Europe, Burnley’s players already look fatigued and a little ragged with a considerable amount of football being played so early on. The Red Devils simply have to make that advantage pay.
If, however, Manchester United endure yet another loss – which would be their third of the season in four games – there will be huge pressure on Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, to relieve Mourinho of his contract. Whether that is the case or not, the Red Devils must have a contingency plan in place should that eventuality come to fruition.
Among the list of managers waiting in the wings to replace Mourinho will be Zinedine Zidane, formerly of Real Madrid, and Antonio Conte, previously of Chelsea.
The French coach has just come off the back of winning the Champions League three times in a row, becoming the first ever manager to achieve such a feat in world football.
Zidane felt that he had reached the end of the road at Los Blancos. With such huge pressures day in, day out in the Spanish capital, there was only one way down from where the Frenchman had led Madrid. It’s fair to say that, unless he had won La Liga the following year, the promise of another Champions League might not satisfy everyone at the club, as well as the fact that continuing to win the prestigious trophy would eventually come to a natural end.
There has been plenty of speculation over Zidane’s future and what is next for him. The France job was touted as a potential destination, up until Didier Deschamps masterminded his country to their third ever World Cup and signed a contract extension until 2020. The French Football Federation have given their full backing to Deschamps and will expect him to remain in charge until at least the 2020 UEFA European Championship.
While what Zidane has done in his very short managerial career is nothing short of outstanding, his qualities and characteristics still remain opaque given his brief nature in charge of Madrid and having not managed elsewhere. That’s only natural, and it was the same for Pep Guardiola, but questions have arisen over whether Zidane can emulate similar achievements on a relative scale with players who are not at the same level as the ones he possessed in Madrid.
Appointing Zidane at Manchester United would be seen as a gamble. And if United’s hierarchy are to go down that route, fans will ask why the gamble was not Ryan Giggs, a manager who knows the club back to front and has a whole playing career worth of experience at Old Trafford. Of course, Zidane brings with him the contacts, experience and titles that he has accumulated throughout his time in charge of Madrid, but it would still be a major risk that could quite easily go the other way and flop.
Conte is an interesting candidate given his very public shaming and fallout with Chelsea’s board. If Mourinho is on a collision course with Woodward and his acolytes in the boardroom, then Conte’s going to encounter a similar scenario given the control he expects when taking over at a club.
No one can doubt the expertise and pedigree Conte brings to the job. After all, he rose Chelsea from the ashes and won a Premier League title in his first season, proving the doubters wrong and marking his place in history.
The Italian is a ferocious personality that does clash with his players and has shown a stubborn side to his management. Take the Diego Costa case for example: one of Chelsea’s best players at the time was thrown to one side by Conte via a text message which thanked him for his time at the club, but he would not feature at Chelsea any longer.
From then on, Chelsea’s board woke up to what was happening under Conte and things went from bad to worse. The former Juventus manager lost control of his incomings and outgoings at the club and was denied the signings he thought were necessary in order to maintain the same level of success. Events rapidly unravelled for Conte at Chelsea and his incredibly public ousting was not what he would have wanted.
Nonetheless, Conte remains an inspiring and tasteful coach, providing he is backed in all areas. From the training ground to the transfer window to his assistant coaches and backroom staff, the Italian has to be granted what he thinks is paramount to build a squad that can challenge for major honours.
It would be a somewhat controversial pick from Manchester United, but it would be a selection that now has experience of English football and with a record that suggests he can deliver in the modern day era.
Those two juggernauts will be at the top of the shortlist if a decision was to be made in the near future. If, however, United believe they can hold off on any decision until the summer, they would be fools for not trying to persuade Mauricio Pochettino of Spurs or Massimiliano Allegri of Juventus to take over. Both would be humungous long shots, but those two have proven – in their own ways – that they are world-class managers who could lead United back to where they belong.
Mourinho, also, could turn things around. There’s a big game on Sunday afternoon and Manchester United simply have to enter the international break having taken back the three points to Old Trafford. Anything else and the noise around a potential exit is only going to intensify.
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