Mauricio Pochettino tops United list after Jose Mourinho axing
Solskjaer to return as interim boss as sacked manager walks away with £22.5m pay-off package
Manchester United want Mauricio Pochettino as the long-term successor to Jose Mourinho, who was sacked yesterday morning, with former striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poised to make a shock return as caretaker manager until the end of the season.
It is understood the move for the Norwegian, currently coach of Molde in his native country, was suggested by former United boss Alex Ferguson.
A day of high drama at United began with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward summoning Mourinho to his office at Carrington and sacking him, two days after the team's dismal 3-1 defeat by Liverpool. It's estimated that the Portuguese coach will get a package of £22.5m in compensation.
Solskjaer is expected to be announced as the stand-in manager within the next couple of days and his first match in charge will be away to Cardiff City, who were relegated under him in 2014 - his only previous English coaching job.
It is expected that Solskjaer will be assisted by Ferguson's former long-term assistant Mike Phelan, who was sacked at David Moyes's behest in 2013. The potential return of Phelan, 56, is a signal of the likely influence being exerted on the process by Ferguson, who has recovered from a brain haemorrhage in May.
Meanwhile, Pochettino refused to rule out a possible departure to Old Trafford in the summer, when asked at his press conference ahead of Tottenham's Carabao Cup quarter-final against Arsenal.
He signed a new deal in the summer that keeps him at Spurs until 2023 and it is expected that it would cost United £34m to compensate for the breaking of that contract. Asked about the possibility of going to United, Pochettino offered no guarantees to his current club. He said: "Like always in football, no one can guarantee anything. What is going to happen in the summer? What is going to happen tomorrow? Nobody knows. The most important is to enjoy the journey."
The decision to sack Mourinho, who has presided over the worst start to a Premier League season in United's history, is understood to have met with private jubilation from the players, many of whom felt they had no relationship with their manager.
Woodward later addressed the squad in the canteen of the training ground, making clear that he expected more from them all in the future if United were to make up ground on the top four and progress in the Champions League knockout stages.
The club felt that they risked a complete breakdown of morale if they had persisted with Mourinho, who had consistently emphasised his own players' shortcomings in the aftermath of defeat. The unflattering comparisons with the Liverpool team in the wake of defeat at Anfield were particularly disturbing for the club.
On Sunday, Mourinho lamented the physical and technical shortcomings of his players and suggested he could do little about it. "You cannot improve or make them have (those qualities). I will give you an example. Robertson, Mané, Salah, Wijnaldum, Keita, Fabinho. They are physical players and, on top of that, they are good players technically."
United are adamant that all the signings made during his period in charge were endorsed by Mourinho, including the record £89m signing Paul Pogba, who is currently out of the team and who circulated a social media post yesterday that appeared to delight in the manager's sacking.
The club felt that they had no choice but to address the culture of negativity around their squad and that the situation had the potential to get much worse with Mourinho at the helm.
The United manager was yesterday filmed being driven away from Salford’s Lowry Hotel, where he has lived at an estimated cost of £600 a night while working at the club.
The Portuguese is understood to have been paid around £22.5m in compensation for the remainder of the new contract he signed with the club in January.
Solskjaer is under contract to Molde, whom he returned to in 2015 after his unsuccessful spell at Cardiff in 2014.
He has led the club to two second-place finishes in the Norwegian league, which finished last month.
He signed a new deal at Molde earlier this month although the new season does not begin until the end of March.
The hope is that Solskjaer (above) can restore the standards expected of United players on the pitch, as well as the unity.
Outside of Mourinho’s running of the squad there had been disquiet that he had refused to allow certain members of staff whom he did not know well on club flights.
While the official reason given to staff was that the planes were too small, the understanding was that Mourinho was concerned about leaks to the media from within the camp.
It has been noted that many of those told they could not use team flights are from the commercial department who manage relationships with Manchester United’s sponsors.
Although relatively small details when compared to the lack of cohesion on the pitch, it has been felt that the standards insisted upon by Ferguson have been allowed to slip in recent times, contributing to a general picture of indiscipline.
For instance, the players were once required to travel in their official club suits, although that has been abandoned under Mourinho’s stewardship and there has been dismay among the club’s hierarchy about whether new players understand the importance of upholding the club’s reputation and tradition.