Jose Mourinho is gone after an acrimonious spell as Manchester United manager, with the next item of intrigue the identity of his replacement.
Laurent Blanc and Zinedine Zidane are among the favourites to take over as caretaker at least, with Blanc having played at United and Zidane, of course, having led Real Madrid to a historic three straight Champions League titles.
But look beyond the obvious candidates and there are a few interesting names, though ones that are hard to imagine in the United hot seat.
Here’s a look at the best replacements for Mourinho that won’t actually happen.
Roy Keane’s turn as a Sky Sports pundit on Sunday was typical “Keano”: direct and uncompromising. It’s tantalising to imagine what the fiery, no-nonsense former midfielder would say to Paul Pogba, for starters.
But the Irishman’s style would probably be as much a clash with the modern footballer as Mourinho’s has been. Would he be able to handle Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and the rest continuing the social media personas they’ve cultivated? Probably not.
Most importantly, however, it’s unlikely that Keane could ever get the United job without mending fences with Sir Alex Ferguson, who remains a club ambassador. It’s more likely that Keane invites old foe Patrick Vieira over for Christmas than him repairing his relationship with his former manager.
Like Keane, Neville has been uncompromising and blunt as a pundit, especially with regards to United. That style has meant he’s criticised the board on occasion, which would be a mark in the “cons” column from the start if he were to even apply.
But the biggest mark against Neville’s hiring is his managerial experience. The former United right-back was hired at Valencia in 2015 amid much fanfare, only to last just under four months in charge.
He managed only 10 wins in 28 games, one of the worst win percentages in club history, with the nadir coming in a 7-0 loss to Barcelona.
Giggs was blessed with a brilliant sense of timing as a player, as some fantastic volleys and dramatic goals will tell you. But so far, he hasn’t carried that into his managerial career.
He was a top assistant to Louis van Gaal at United, poised to take over in the not-too-distant future, only for the Dutchman to bore his way into the sack. Mourinho’s availability at the time, and his pedigree, made him a better candidate to replace Van Gaal, and Giggs was forced to leave the club to fulfill his managerial ambitions.
Now, when there’s a vacancy at Old Trafford again, he’s the reigning Wales manager in the middle of a project that includes, at the very least, the remainder of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, and indeed his four-year contract is supposed to see him through to the 2022 World Cup.
And he wasn’t a popular Wales appointment to begin with, given the perception that he often prioritised United over national team duty as a player. Leaving the manager’s job for his old club would make him a hated figure in Wales.
What an appointment this would be. The Arsenal legend, for whom Manchester United was a nemesis throughout his career, is of course available having left the London club in the summer.
But his loyalty to Arsenal probably means he wouldn’t even countenance taking the United job – he’s gone on record to say he couldn’t bear the thought of managing against his old club, so another Premier League role is out of the question, not least one with an old rival.
And United’s board would probably be hesitant about him in any case, given the way he presided over a ten-year trophy drought at Arsenal and how his relationship with the fans as a result.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON
United fans can dream, can’t they?
Ferguson is easily the greatest manager in the club’s history, and a return would be the stuff of fairytales. United have previous, as well: Sir Matt Busby was named caretaker manager in similar circumstances to the ones that exist now, when Wilf McGuinness was sacked halfway through the 1970-71 season.
But Ferguson left in 2013 citing health as a factor, and given he has recently had a health scare, it would almost be cruel to bring him back – though plenty of United fans would argue that seeing what’s happened to his beloved club is worse.
Sadly, though Old Trafford may be the Theatre of Dreams, this is one that won’t be coming true.
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