Robert Redmond: Pochettino, not Zidane, must be Man United's choice to replace Mourinho 5 years ago

Robert Redmond: Pochettino, not Zidane, must be Man United's choice to replace Mourinho

*Originally published on October 1, 2018.

Jose Mourinho won't be Manchester United manager this time next year.


In fact, he probably won't be at the club by Christmas. Or even Halloween. Or even this time next week. The clock is ticking on his reign at Old Trafford. And it was always going to end this way.

Mourinho's side have claimed just 10 points from seven Premier League games this season - David Moyes numbers. He appears to have lost the key figures in the dressing room.

Saturday's 3-1 defeat to West Ham showed a manager out of touch with the tactical trends at the top of the game and the mood of his players. The team aren't buying what he's selling.


Only Mourinho, or possibly Tony Pulis, would play Scott McTominay in a back-three behind a midfield of giants away to West Ham. Paul Pogba was the shortest of United's midfield trio of Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic.

Romelu Lukaku and Antony Martial were welded onto this monstrosity and isolated from the rest of the side.

Alexis Sanchez, who Mourinho pushed to sign and helped make the best-paid footballer in the Premier League, wasn't deemed worthy of a place on the bench. United are a mess and no-one should be surprised.

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The football is turgid, incoherent and constipated. It has been since Mourinho became the manager in 2016.

No other top team plays Mourinho football. Why would they? The game has moved on since his high points in 2004 and 2010. The United manager seems incapable of such change.

Those who objectively analysed and actually paid attention to his career could have warned the United fans who continued to defend Mourinho until a few days ago. It wasn't fake news, negativity or bias against the club. It was just always going to be this way.

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The wrong man for the job


However, there's not a lot to be gained from discussing Mourinho at this point. The focus should now be on who will replace him such is the rot at Old Trafford.

If United haven't already started the process of finding his successor then the club really is in trouble.

According to a report in The Telegraph, United are "reluctant" to sack Mourinho. But Ed Woodward, the club's executive vice-chairman, is worried that he may be forced to take action if results don't improve.

The report claims that Zinedine Zidane could be offered the job if Mourinho is dismissed. The former Real Madrid manager would certainly be the choice of most fans to take the job. And the club's owners would undoubtedly approve of such a high-profile appointment.


Yet, that's probably another reason to avoid the Frenchman.

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Zidane is the fantasy option. He won three Champions Leagues in less than three seasons as Madrid manager.

He had the respect and trust of an expensively assembled squad. He's f***ing Zinedine Zidane. One of the greatest footballers of all time, a legendary figure with incredible presence and unrivalled prestige in the game.

However, he's not the right man for United at this point. But, if you didn't know a lot about football, you would think he is the ideal figure to help restore United to glory.

Firstly, the difference between coaching Real Madrid and Man United is akin to the difference between Raphael Varane and Chris Smalling. Zidane's impressive work at Real is no real indication of how he would do with the current United team. The tools for success were already in place at Madrid before his arrival.

The squad wanted a manager to get out of their way. They respond better to a facilitator they respect - like Zidane - rather than a coach who will try to impose a rigid tactical plan - like Mourinho or Rafa Benitez.

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United need a top-level coach to make sense of their muddled squad.

They would be appointing Zidane for the same reasons that they selected Mourinho - he is famous, has been successful in the past and is available. There is also no indication that the Frenchman would be open to taking the job.

He proved with his resignation at Real last summer that he is a very intelligent person. He knew when it was the right time to leave. And walked away with his stock at an all-time high. Zidane is probably too smart to take the United job in its current state.

Ultimately, United need Mauricio Pochettino. Even if it means waiting until the end of the season to try to appoint him, the Tottenham manager must be United's first choice.

It would be extremely difficult to get him to leave Spurs. Alex Ferguson ruled-out a transfer for Luka Modric because of the difficulties of dealing with Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman. The former United manager likened the experience to hip surgery.

Levy won't let Pochettino go without a significant fight.

The former Southampton manager may not want to leave the club mid-way through a long-term project anyway. He signed a new five-year deal last summer. His key players have signed long-term deals. It's a lot to give up to go coach Phil Jones.

But the Argentine must be the club's first choice to succeed Mourinho. It wouldn't be an easy appointment to make, but that's not a bad thing. United have gone for easy appointments and signings since Ferguson left and it hasn't worked.

Some will always use Pochettino's lack of trophies as a mark against his career. But that misses the point completely. There are only a couple of trophies available for a team to win each season and there are other metrics to measure a manager's impact.

Pochettino has created a team that play modern, high-intensity, attacking football with talented young players. He achieved this with a net-spend of just £50m since taking the job in 2014.

He has improved the players who were already in the Spurs squad while integrating and developing young players. Spurs are now a top-four side, Champions League regulars with a wage budget a fraction the size of their rivals. Imagine what he could with the resources available at Old Trafford.

United must move away from the reactionary tactics and scorched earth approach of Mourinho. After they do that, they need to avoid the temptation of pursuing Zidane, the Galactico whisperer who would probably get a tune out of Paul Pogba. Pochettino's progressive football is the club's best chance of success in the immediate future.

If United are still a serious football club and not just a media brand, then Pochettino has to be the first choice to replace Mourinho when the inevitable happens.