If you’re a professional football manager, there’s a good chance you’ve had a call from Manchester United in the past few days. Or at least, it seems that way given the number of candidates the Old Trafford club have reportedly contacted following the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday.
United’s initial statement confirmed that they would be looking to hire an interim manager until the end of the season, implying that a more long-term appointment would be made next summer. Subsequent reports raised the possibility of Mauricio Pochettino taking over as that long-term appointment immediately, but a short-term option might be more feasible at this stage.
This has led to a number of names being put forward - Laurent Blanc, Rudi Garcia, Ralf Rangnick, Lucien Favre, Wayne Rooney - but one has seemingly risen to the top. Indeed, former Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde might well be Manchester United’s top pick from their list of interim candidates.
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As short-term solutions go, Valverde might be the best United could hope for. The 57-year-old has been peculiarly left out in the footballing wilderness since departing Barcelona nearly two years ago, but his pedigree means he would be more than qualified to take over at Old Trafford in the interim.
Valverde, after all, is a double Spanish title winner. Under his charge, Barca were regular fixtures in the latter stages of the Champions League. While the Camp Nou faithful grew tired of an apparent lack of flair from his team, Valverde put in place a structure that did more to sustain Barcelona than was appreciated at the time.
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde with Andres Iniesta.
Image credit: Getty Images
Indeed, Valverde’s Barca record, which saw him win a trophy every 36 games, looks even better in retrospect given the troubles experienced at the Camp Nou since his departure. Ronald Koeman certainly did no better in his two seasons in charge while Quique Setien lasted only a few months after replacing Valverde.
While some Barcelona managers struggled to handle the egos in the dressing room, namely Lionel Messi, Valverde coped. In fact, it was reported at the time of Valverde’s sacking that Messi disapproved of the decision such was his working relationship with the 57-year-old.
Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo is a different sort of character to Messi, but Valverde might stand a better chance of getting the sometimes volatile Portuguese international onside than most. He also has the pedigree and track record to command respect in the dressing room and the quiet authority as a personality that Solskjaer never had.
Importantly, Valverde is known to speak English well, meaning he would have an advantage in getting his ideas across quickly. He has a broad knowledge of the game having worked in Greece and at a number of clubs at all levels of the Spanish game and is the sort of pragmatist United need at this point.
It could be argued that Rangnick would be a better short-term appointment for Manchester United than Valverde. The German coach is renowned for putting in places footballing values that outlast his stewardship - see RB Leipzig - and the Old Trafford club could certainly do with some footballing values right now.
However, it’s believed Rangnick would demand an influential role in United’s front office after stepping aside as interim manager and there’s no suggestion the club would be willing to offer him this. By all accounts, they want a manager who will work under their current structure which is why Valverde might well be best qualified.
The danger in hiring an interim manager with the pedigree of Valverde is that Manchester United could be persuaded to hand him the job permanently if results improve between now and the end of the season when the Old Trafford club needs a long-term leader on an upward trajectory. But as long as Valverde doesn’t become another Solskjaer, he could point United in the right direction again.
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