Serial Champions League winner Zinedine Zidane has been linked with the vacant manager’s job at Man Utd but it is Mauricio Pochettino who they should pull out the stops to recruit.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning return to Manchester United over the course of the summer summed up the regime in charge at Old Trafford up better than any decision in recent memory. As prolific as the Portuguese is, the idea that he can lead an attack in the current landscape of the Premier League is somewhat fanciful.
Given the current trend of high-pressing teams winning major trophies, the fact that United overlooked signing a central midfielder to knit what looked like a team on the up together in favour of the superstar approach spoke of a regime more obsessed with content than coherence.
Which is exactly why Zinedine Zidane is thought to be a target to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. And still, why that would be the wrong idea.
Like Ronaldo, Zidane’s CV is hugely impressive and his achievements cannot be overlooked. Still, there is a strong argument to suggest that his Real Madrid team were much better in moments than across a sustained period. Clearly, winning the Champions League in three consecutive seasons was from easy. That much should be obvious.
What’s less obvious, however, is exactly what Zidane did to win them. Where Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte all boast a tactical blueprint ready-made for the relentlessness of the Premier League, Zidane’s more relaxed approach does not lend itself to that.
What United need is someone to come in and develop a plan. Against both Liverpool and Manchester City recently, United looked devoid of ideas and, when Ronaldo or Bruno Fernandes does not step up with a moment of individual brilliance, it’s a wonder exactly what they have been working on in training all week.
Like Carlo Ancelotti, Zidane seems more suited to working at a club where man-management is his main remit. Paris Saint-Germain, for example, might be a better fit as he coaxes the best from the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi as he did in Madrid with Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Meanwhile, the man in charge in the French capital, Mauricio Pochettino, boasts the kind of track record that would appear naturally suited to the Man Utd project.
One of the main criticisms of his time in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu was Zidane’s refusal to bring on the next generation, preferring to rely on the ageing superstars who won him so many trophies.
There may well be a certain logic to that, particularly at a club who demand so much success so often, but how on earth are United ever going to see the best of Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood with that kind of approach? Ronaldo cannot go on forever, as much as it might seem like he can.
What about the famed ‘United way’ of developing young players? Will they forever be a content machine trying to evoke memories of the past? Do the owners even really care?
United have pandered to superstars in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era too often. In the eight years since the Scot’s retirement, countless big names have tried and failed to restore former glories.
Solskjaer was a fantastic appointment as a caretaker manager to raise the mood after Jose Mourinho. Now, it’s time for Man Utd to do what they should have done in the summer of 2019 and at least try to appoint Pochettino.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If those in charge at Old Trafford overlook what’s needed and go the superstar route once again, their running of the club will no longer be a reckless, misguided approach. Rather, it will become an insane way of operating in the modern era.
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