As Manchester United survey the wreckage of Jose Mourinho’s reign, the troubled club’s hierarchy would be wise to swallow their pride and copy the successful blueprint established by bitter rivals Manchester City.
Mourinho was sacked by United on Tuesday as the Portuguese coach paid the price for the team’s worst start to a season since 1990.
Now the focus at Old Trafford turns to the search for Mourinho’s successor and the club’s plan to escape the rut they have been stuck in since Alex Ferguson retired after winning their most recent Premier League title in 2013.
United, languishing 11 points adrift of the top four, hope to announce a caretaker manager, with strong links to the club, to see out the rest of the season within 48 hours.
Regardless of that temporary solution, it is the long-term direction of an increasingly rudderless club that most concerns United fans.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Mourinho, with former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane also a strong contender.
Pochettino has caught the eye with his fine work at Espanyol, Southampton and now Tottenham, where the 46-year-old has blended a clutch of talented youngsters and cut-price signings into one of the most attractive sides in Europe.
Despite not signing a single player in the close-season, Pochettino’s side still sit third in the Premier League and also advanced to the Champions League last 16 after an impressive draw at Barcelona last week.
Pochettino is yet to win a trophy with Tottenham but he could be the man to galvanise United, with Ferguson’s former assistant coach Rene Meulensteen saying his old club have lost their identity.
“You hear people talking about how United have lost their identity and that’s what you see among the players. There is no really clear direction,” Meulensteen told the BBC.
– Zidane link –
Zidane, 46, has impeccable credentials, which would ensure he would be respected by a United squad that grew sick of Mourinho’s relentless hard-nosed approach.
One of the finest players of his generation with Juventus, Real Madrid and France, Zidane pulled off the tricky task of making the transition to the dug-out.
In just three years as Madrid boss he won three Champions League titles and one La Liga crown before surprisingly leaving at the end of last season.
United legend Ryan Giggs, now the Wales boss, and Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe have also been mentioned.
Former United defender Laurent Blanc and Carlos Queiroz, who served as one of Ferguson’s assistants, are said to be in the frame for the caretaker position.
Whoever comes in must heal the rifts created by Mourinho, who was the author of his own downfall following damaging feuds with Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Valencia.
The former Chelsea boss also squabbled with United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward after the club failed to land his top transfer targets.
Patrice Evra, a former United left-back, called for the eventual new boss to bring harmony back to the dressing room.
“Let’s focus on rebuilding something solid instead of being in a playground,” he tweeted. “Doing this is only disrespecting the badge. From now we only need positivity.”
While Mourinho once again proved his acerbic style of management cannot be sustained over the long term, the club’s former defender Gary Neville believes United’s powerbrokers must take their share of the blame.
And he says Woodward and United owners the Glazer family need to sanction root-and-branch reform of the club’s football operations.
– Man City blueprint –
They can look across Manchester to see how City have created a modern system that allows boss Pep Guardiola to focus on his team, while chief executive Ferran Soriano and director Txiki Begiristain look after player recruitment and overall club philosophy.
Arsenal underwent a similar overhaul in the closing months of Arsene Wenger’s reign and are reaping the rewards with new boss Unai Emery.
Keen to bring in a sporting director of their own, United have been linked with Manchester-born Paul Mitchell, who works as the head of recruitment and development at RB Leipzig and previously helped Tottenham discover Dele Alli.
Roma’s Monchi is regarded as one of Europe’s top transfer gurus and is also believed to be on United’s radar.
Aware that the quality of the talent emerging from their youth ranks has dipped since the famed ‘Class of 92’, United also need to revitalise their academy.
“My personal view is that the club needs to reset,” said Neville, one of United’s homegrown stars under Ferguson.
“This is not just a moment to sack Jose Mourinho and appoint another manager. This is a moment for the club to take stock.”