Time for a change at Manchester United? 6 top candidates to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

The month of November, in managerial terms, is sacking season. As the clocks go back, nights draw in and players from Premier League clubs fly around Europe to play for their national teams, managers start to nervously look over their shoulders in fear of bad news.

The fall international break has traditionally been an optimum time for club owners to re-assess, cash in their chips and throw caution to the wind, ditching struggling managers in favor of shiny, newer models. The reasoning is fairly solid. A change of guard while the focus is elsewhere often means an easier transition away from the spotlight while giving the new boss an extended settling-in period that they’re unlikely to find at other points in the season.

It was this time last year that Tottenham made the most eye-catching changes of recent years, waving farewell to the Mauricio Pochettino years to usher in the age of Mourinho. Now, as early season form comes up against panicking chairmen and frustrated fans, it’s Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who finds himself bookies favorite to be the first Premier League manager to find himself out of a job.

Despite overseeing lauded performances in the UEFA Champions League and a convincing win away at early season frontrunners Everton, the Norwegian has still not done enough to convince some followers that he’s the right man for the job. But if Ed Woodward was to reconsider his options, just who would be the best candidate to replace him? We assess the names of those linked to the job to see how well suited, and how likely, they are for United.

 

6 viable options to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

1. MAURICIO POCHETTINO

The charismatic Argentinian is very much the leading candidate for the job. He has been ever since his departure from Spurs twelve months ago, with some even wishing he had beaten Mourinho to the appointment four years ago. It’s not difficult to see why. Having arrived in England in 2013, he wasted no time bringing results to Southampton, beating Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, and claiming the club’s highest ever Premier League points tally. He then turned Tottenham from soft-centered under-achievers to Champions League finalists, genuine Premier League contenders and, during a year period in 2017, arguably the best team in the country. All with a remarkably modest net spend.

His teams are aggressive in the press, play on the front foot and are often marked by young, local talent. The ‘but’ comes in the lack of trophies he has to his name. To his credit, he’s never been in charge of a team expected to win trophies. But if he were to land the job at Old Trafford, he would have to adapt to new levels of expectations quickly to win over the doubters.

PROS:

Knows the league, popular throughout the fanbase, encourages and develops youth talent, doesn’t rely on big transfers. Free agent with no buy-out fees.

CONS:

While there’s no disputing his talent, his lack of silverware leaves many a United fan questioning the rationale for ditching Solksjaer only to go for another trophy-less manager.

LIKELIHOOD OF MOVE:

As it stands, he looks primed and ready to take the job if it becomes available.

 

2. MASSIMILIANO ALLEGRI

The Italian has been out of a job since leaving Juventus in May 2019, on the back of his fifth successive league title with the Old Lady. During his five-year spell, he amassed a total of 11 trophies, becoming the first manager of Europe’s top five leagues to win four consecutive doubles and took Juventus to two Champions League finals. He brings with him a winning mentality that places results above anything else, an attitude that served him well in Turin but might not prove so popular at a club whose fanbase are notoriously eager to see exciting attacking football. While his Milan and Juventus teams were credited for their ability to change shape and adapt to new systems, neither played the quick football often demanded by the Old Trafford terraces. Given the chance to add some trophies to that style, however, and Allegri-ball could easily win over the masses.

PROS:

Football at the top is largely a results business and there are few around who can match his record in that department. His win rate of over 70% at Juventus is second only to Guardiola in recent years. Free agent with no buy-out fees.

CONS:

Pragmatic style could prove hard to win over some United fans. No experience of managing outside his own country – although Conte and Ancelotti managed to make the transition relatively seamless.

LIKELIHOOD OF MOVE:

There’s been little linking manager and club together, and Allegri’s previous claim that he’d want to retire at 55 doesn’t offer too much hope but odds have shortened and fans are starting to look upon him as a favorable alternative to Pochettino.

 

3. JULIAN NAGELSMANN

The snappily dressed German is something of a wonder kid in European football. Still just 33 years old, the RB Leipzig manager has been breaking records ever since taking his first role at 28. A quick glance at his achievements offers an explanation as to why he’s so highly regarded: youngest ever manager in the Bundesliga, secured Champions League football in his first full season at Hoffenheim – the club’s first time in the UEFA Champions League, youngest ever manager to reach the semi-final stage of the tournament, placed third behind only Hansi Flick and Jurgen Klopp at last year’s UEFA Manager of the Year awards.

He’s known to carry an obsessively detailed streak that has seen him compared to everyone from Mourinho to Guardiola, and looks poised to take the next step to join one of European football’s elite clubs.

PROS:

Innovative, tactically astute, taken a far less fancied team to the UEFA Champions League semi-final. Impressive game management and is young enough to shape a team’s longer-term future.

CONS:

Still relatively untested, is he able to make the step up to one of the biggest clubs in the world?

LIKELIHOOD OF MOVE:

Those within United are known to be hugely impressed by Nagelsmann, despite Leipzig’s recent collapse against them in the Champions League. If they are looking for someone to oversee a new project, he could well be the man to lead it.

 

4. RALPH HASENHÜTTL

Before Nagelsmann arrived at Leipzig, it was Austrian Ralph Hasenhüttl who had established the club as a serious force in German football. In his short time at the club, he managed to break up the Munich-Dortmund duopoly to secure a second-place finish in his first season with the club. Arriving in England a year later with Southampton, he quickly imposed his philosophy on the unfancied side, living up to his ‘Alpine Klopp’ moniker. One glaring blip aside (the 9-0 disaster-class against Leicester), his side have played fast, front-foot football with unrelenting energy and on a budget nowhere near the league’s top teams. In a curious way, even that galling defeat has worked in his favor in the long run, proving himself able to turn around results and galvanize a team when they most need it. Their current position in the Premier League’s top four is testament to his coaching talent and ability to shape a winning dressing room.

PROS:

Has a clear footballing style and is able to translate it to his players. A uniting but commanding force in the dressing room.

CONS:

Will a club of United’s stature look to hire a manger from a mid-table team with no experience of handling the demands of a top top club?

LIKELIHOOD OF MOVE:

There are others undoubtedly ahead of him on the list but if those become unavailable, then don’t rule it out.

 

5. BRENDAN RODGERS

Young yet experienced, an ardent follower of tactical evolutions and able to adapt to different challenges; there’s a lot to mark Brendan Rodgers out as one of the leading candidates for the Manchester United job. Add to that the fact he has already had a taste of life in the spotlight of big club management at Celtic and Liverpool, and the Northern Irishman suddenly appears one of the more astute options. Other than one glaring fact, of course: Liverpool. The link to the Merseyside club likely means he’ll never be seriously considered for a role at United. The divide between the two clubs remains insurmountable and while Rodgers was only in charge for three trophy-less seasons at Anfield, that’ll be three too many for most United fans to swallow.

PROS:

A coaching style that brings out the best in individual players and teams as a collective. Fiercely ambitious and eager to put the ‘nearly man’ title to bed.

CONS:

Other than having managed arch-rivals Liverpool, some find it difficult to warm to Rodgers’ tendency to self-grandiose and pat himself on the back. That and the never-ending David Brent (from The Office) comparisons.

LIKELIHOOD OF MOVE:

He’ll definitely be considered but the Liverpool connection is likely to rule him out.

 

6. DIEGO SIMEONE

In one of the most glaring misreads of modern football, former Premier League and England player Trevor Sinclair recently appeared on TalkSport Radio to suggest that United shouldn’t aim for Pochettino as he’s not attacking enough and should, instead, focus on Diego Simeone. It was quite a baffling take on a manager who has made his name at Atletico Madrid by grinding out victories through counter-attacking football built on utter defensive solidity. But what an impact he’s had on Madrid’s ‘other’ team, turning them into a fearsome unit capable of winning LaLiga ahead of their noisy neighbors and Barcelona and being minutes away from UEFA Champions League victory. His passionate management style relies heavily on tactical nous and establishing the complete trust of those in his team. It was notable how highly Kieran Trippier spoke of his management style following his move from Pochettino’s Spurs in 2019.

PROS:

Simeone can galvanize a dressing room like few others and would not stand for any star player not pulling their weight. He can upset the odds and overhaul more fancied teams both in one-off games and complete seasons.

CONS:

It’s hard to look past the ultra-defensive/pragmatic tactics. Would that be something United fans could get behind? He hasn’t yet been able to bring about the more attacking style he promised two seasons ago.

LIKELIHOOD OF MOVE:

He would definitely represent a different path for United’s owners to consider. If they choose to take it, there are fewer better placed than the Argentinian.

 

OUTSIDER OPTIONS:

Since wowing the world with his Ajax team of two seasons ago, the spotlight on Erik ten Hag has slightly dimmed but there’s no doubting his talent. Each year, he’s resigned to losing his best players to bigger clubs yet comes back each time with impressive results achieved in attractive style.

Before taking over at PSG, Thomas Tuchel was high on the United radar. Since then, the clamor seems to have lessened but with things never quite secure at the Paris club, don’t be surprised to see him re-appear on the shortlist when the time comes.

United fans would love to tap into their rich history and pluck out a gem of a manager in the shape of a former player. The Solksjaer experiment may not have been the most successful example but there may be a more suitable candidate lurking not too far away. Sir Alex Ferguson often viewed Laurent Blanc as a prospective manager, while Ryan Giggs’ time in the dugout at the end of David Moyes’ reign was seen as a short trial run. Neither now look like the best available options but there’s a lot of favor within the club held for former midfielder and current first-team coach Michael Carrick.

 

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