In a ground-breaking move in world football, Manchester United have decided that in their pursuit of a replacement for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they need to employ not one but two interim managers.
First, Michael Carrick will stutter through a run of tough fixtures, then someone else – they do not yet know who, but someone – will take over. Until, that is, a proper guy can be brought in.
There are still six months of the season to go, yet the United board has effectively written it off, announcing that there is no point thinking about how to progress things until this campaign is over.
This, incidentally, is the season in which at its start, after spending over £100million in the summer on new players, the same crew were telling us the minimum requirement was to win trophies.
This is also the season in which several of the players – not least the expensively-imported Cristiano Ronaldo (36) and the old warhorse Edinson Cavani (34) – were looking to grab a swansong bit of silverware.
That is no longer the case. Now the ambition expressed in the board’s strategy appears to extend no further than staggering through without too much embarrassment.
How has it come to this? Well, forget the nonsense seeping out from the board’s PR men that they had not yet lined up a replacement for the Norwegian out of respect for a club hero. This was the bunch who decided to sack Louis Van Gaal a few hours after he had won the FA Cup – the idea that they have any respect for anything other than covering their own backsides is laughable.
What makes the double interim approach all the more baffling is that there is a manager out there who wants the job and would be a huge upgrade on what they have recently had. Why wait until the summer to appoint Mauricio Pochettino?
Pay whatever Paris Saint-Germain demand in compensation – with indications that they would not be unhappy to see him depart, with the currently unemployed Zinedine Zidane a more natural fit – and bring him in tomorrow. In football, there is never time to waste unless, apparently, you are Ed Woodward and his interim-loving chums.
The problem with bringing in an interim is that it does not affect any necessary change whatsoever. The structural issues that have proven so inadequate will not be confronted.
Solskjaer was a United manager who preferred to manage by committee. He delegated responsibility for training, coaching and tactics to his staff. He saw himself as someone to apply the finishing touch to the system, rather than impose on every aspect of it.
Now he has gone, the same system remains absolutely intact. All the coaches who failed to develop a way of defending a corner, or even how to pass to a player wearing the same colour shirt, or to develop an identifiable way of playing, are still there.
Often when a manager is fired, the charge is that he has lost the dressing room. Solskjaer did not. The players still liked and respected him. What they clearly found less than inspiring was the set-up he had established. According to David de Gea, so hopeless was it that when they stepped out on the field the players simply did not know what they were doing.
What appointing a new manager would have done is change all that. He would have brought in his own people. News would seep out of a new broom in the changing room, of bans on tomato sauce in the canteen, of a sudden rigour about the place. Players would have regarded it as a fresh start, would have tried a bit harder, keen to impress the new set-up. Those who had been forgotten about under the former regime would have been invigorated by the change.
There would have been new ideas, new language, new processes. Ultimately, perhaps, even a bit of new-manager bounce, of the sort that infected Tottenham, Norwich and Aston Villa last weekend.
But an interim will not deliver any of that. Not least because he will not bring in his own people. There is no point paying off a load of staff and bringing in another load who will only then have to be paid off when the new man is finally appointed next summer.
The interim will be expected to work with those who are already there, those whose tactics have been demonstrated to be woefully inadequate, those whose ideas have long gone in one ear and out the other.
What the United board think is a plausible way forward is to stick Laurent Blanc or (heaven forbid) Steve Bruce in front of Solskjaer’s backroom team and hope they will do something. Frankly, they might as well appoint Solskjaer as the interim.
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