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Monday, November 29, 2021

Ernesto Valverde, Laurent Blanc and Steve Bruce: Contenders to become Man Utd’s interim manager

Manchester United have tasked former midfielder Michael Carrick with leading the club on a temporary basis following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this weekend.

Carrick, a first-team coach under Solskjaer, will take charge of United while the club begins its search for an “interim manager” who will sit in the dugout until the end of the season.

What sort of coach should they be targeting for this interim position? Should the incoming coach ever be considered as a long-term option? And what are the risks and rewards of pursuing a caretaker, rather than permanent, coach at this point of the season?

Here, Telegraph Sport analyses the potential names in the mix and the key questions that United must answer as they seek a short-term manager who can rescue their campaign.

Assessed: Potential options for the interim position at Old Trafford 

Michael Carrick
Knows the club and the players, and is highly regarded within the game. But he has been there with Solskjaer, so what has he been doing until now? Where is the evidence of his coaching?

Ernesto Valverde The Spaniard has not managed since he was sacked by Barcelona in January 2020. Won two league titles with Barcelona but has no experience of English football.

Laurent Blanc
A former United player, so he ticks the “gets the club” box (although there is little to suggest this really matters). Experience at PSG means he is used to managing big egos. 

Paulo Fonseca
Available now, which makes things easier from a logistical point of view, but has been angling for a job in the Premier League without success for months. Overlooked by Tottenham, Newcastle United and Aston Villa.

Ralf Rangnick
A hugely influential figure who is one of the most important individuals in the rise of Germany’s collection of super-coaches. Is he better suited to a sporting director role?

Lucien Favre
Style of play suits United’s attacking traditions, and he is available. The former Borussia Dortmund manager looked set to take over at Crystal Palace this summer before a late change of heart. 

Rudi Garcia
Former Lyon manager has a reputation for attacking football and produced some impressive results in France. Again, no experience of the English game. 

Ronald Koeman
Experienced, both in the Premier League and with enormous European clubs, and now available following his sacking from Barcelona. Reputationally, on the back foot. A hard one to sell to the United supporters. 

Steve Bruce
Has enormous managerial experience and is another former United player who understands the demands of the club. Given the nature of his exit from Newcastle, would the United fans accept him? Would be an extraordinary step for the club to take. 

Wayne Rooney
Has earned plenty of admirers for his work at Derby County, despite all their off-field troubles. Another club legend, but surely it is far too soon for him to return to Old Trafford. 

Experience and authority can be helpful – but not essential

In recent years the successes of Guus Hiddink (Chelsea, twice – 2009 and 2015/16), Jupp Heynckes (Bayern Munich, 2017/18) and Rafa Benitez (Chelsea, 2012/13) have shown that elite-level experience, and the authority that comes with it, can be crucial to steadying a ship following the dismissal of a manager. 

These three caretakers all excelled in their brief spells in charge, and the same can also be said of Kenny Dalglish’s return to Liverpool as an interim coach in 2011 (until his appointment on a permanent basis, more of which later). Coaches with an impressive standing in the game can be important figures in galvanising the squad, or at the very least imposing a new set of standards. 

Years of experience are not necessarily crucial to a caretaker manager’s success, though, and there are examples of lesser-known coaches emerging from the shadows and thriving as interim options.

The most spectacular of these in recent years is Hansi Flick, who was appointed the interim manager of Bayern Munich following the sacking of Niko Kovac in November 2019. Previously an assistant coach, Flick went on to transform Bayern as he guided them to a memorable treble. 

One of the most successful interim appointments in English football was Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea, who had limited coaching experience before taking over as caretaker manager in 2012. Chelsea went on to win both the FA Cup and the Champions League.

Do not get too excited – a good short-term coach is not always the right long-term manager

So many interim appointments turn sour when the club becomes over-excited and appoints the coach on a permanent basis. A story like Flick’s is a rare exception to the rule here, with recent football history littered with examples of a caretaker manager coming in, enjoying a successful start, and then being erroneously handed a long-term contract.

Dalglish at Liverpool, Di Matteo at Chelsea, Craig Shakespeare at Leicester, Mike Phelan at Hull City, Paul Hart at Portsmouth, Tim Sherwood at Tottenham Hotspur: all started as interim managers before being appointed on a permanent basis, and all of those decisions were swiftly proven to be mistakes.

Going back further, Aston Villa famously appointed Tony Barton as their caretaker manager in 1982, after Ron Saunders resigned. Barton went on to lead Villa to European Cup glory, but he struggled to maintain that success and was fired two years later.

United’s executives will know as well as anyone how tempting it is to throw support behind a successful short-term appointment, as they did with Solskjaer in 2019. They have made it clear, though, that they only want to appoint a manager until the end of this season. History shows they should stick to that decision, even if the caretaker enjoys a positive first few months.

Provide the right support for the new man, even if he will not be there for long

Yes, the interim manager is only there for a short period of time. And yes, it would be foolish to invest hugely in backroom staff and assistants for a coach who is not the long-term man for the job. But at the same time, it is vital that the caretaker has the tools needed to do his job properly.

A recent example of this not being the case was when Arsenal appointed Freddie Ljungberg as the interim head coach following the sacking of Unai Emery in 2019. Ljungberg was not allowed to bring in his own coaching staff and was clearly in need of further manpower during his brief spell in charge. 

He never had a chance of turning results around, in the circumstances, and the lack of coaching structure in place at the club meant that there was an enormous amount of work to do when the permanent appointment of Mikel Arteta was made later in the season. 

 

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