Opinion
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Mauricio Pochettino heads the queue to replace Jose Mourinho but Manchester United could unseat rivals Liverpool and City

  • Spurs boss is fan’s choice but they would back move for Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp
  • Leeds United coach Marcelo Biesla is an outside choice as is club legend Ryan Giggs
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 11:28am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 11:43am

Jose Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, issued a rare statement last Friday which asserted that “Jose is very happy at the club and the club is very happy with him. He has a long-term contract with Manchester United and is fully committed in building a solid winning project.”

So, no need at all to speculate on any possible successor. United fans can relax with their team miles off the top of the league knowing there will be no changes. Except that the speculation won’t stop if the team continues to underperform.

What if United don’t get into the Champions League – the club’s annual benchmark – for next season? Or Mourinho decides to coach Real Madrid again?

Mauricio Pochettino, 46, remains the favourite to take over at Old Trafford and Mourinho knows it. The Argentinian has done well at Tottenham without winning anything. He likes living in London and has a superb new stadium to look forward to sometime before his 60th birthday. But Pochettino knows United is a far bigger club and he’s a climber, that’s why he left Southampton for Tottenham. He’d join United, though not mid-season.

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Who else is there? Pep Guardiola, 47, is the best coach in the world. United were interested in him before they found out he was going to City. He’s an obvious candidate. He already lives in Manchester where he’s happy and settled with his family.

Guardiola could move to a far bigger club with a far richer, more successful history, one which has slipped from the top of football’s tree.

Does Guardiola have the talent to get United back to the top? Or does he stay at unloved City playing the brilliant football he’s long been associated with.

Taking the helm at Old Trafford would be Guardiola’s greatest challenge since he accepted the Barcelona job a decade ago. Then, he told club president Joan Laporta that he wouldn’t have the balls to appoint him.

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Would Guardiola have the balls to move to United? If he did, United’s gain would be a huge blow to City. It should be a no-brainer. Guardiola likes tradition in football. He’d be working at a stadium which doesn’t take the name of a sponsor, at a club whose only mention in the football leaks was about a missing £4 from the pie sales before a reserve game.

Guardiola could also bring coach Brian Kidd back for a last swansong, 50 years after he scored in the European Cup final. Isn’t football all about romance?

And what about Jurgen Klopp? I spoke to Ed Woodward about Klopp when he was at Borussia Dortmund and Woodward described him as a “genius … their wage bill is lower than half the clubs in the Premier League, but he’s really got a lot out of them”.

What could he get out of the team with the second highest wage bill in world football, one which doesn’t sell its best players to Barcelona?

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Klopp has got Liverpool firing and is hugely popular with fans. There’s even a chance that Liverpool could win their first league title since 1990 under the charismatic German. But he’s used to working in front of 80,000 crowds in Germany, not quaint little 55,000 crowds at Anfield.

It’s to be admired that United and Liverpool, who meet at Anfield on Sunday in the biggest game in English football, don’t trade with each other, but as Britain’s Brexit vote showed, long-standing trade agreements can be ripped up.

Marcelo Bielsa should be considered, not because he’s the football wizard who Guardiola turned to when he wanted to be a coach, but because he’d have the team playing better football than Guardiola’s Barcelona with the resources of Manchester United behind him.

Leeds United fans would also be devastated to lose him, just as they were Eric Cantona. He and others moved because they wanted to play for a bigger club with more chance of winning trophies.

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At 63, the Argentinian Bielsa is no callow youth, but age is just a number to the man who obsesses about football more than any other. United could also provide a (sponsored) bucket for him to sit on by the side of the pitch.

Former Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane fills the ‘free and successful’ role, though his family are firmly settled in Madrid and he doesn’t speak English.

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United could look on their own doorstep. Ryan Giggs, who grew up in Manchester, has had a long and successful previous association with United. He was in line to take over from Van Gaal but became associated with the Dutchman’s failings and his stock plummeted, with United fans overwhelmingly in favour of the more experienced Mourinho. They’re not now.

With Giggs there’d be no expensive compensation payment and the Welshman knows the club inside out. No, that’s far too obvious … or is it? Just like Guardiola.