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Dublin: 20 °C Saturday 30 May, 2020

Will Man United rue not hiring Pochettino while they have the chance?

Ole Gunnar Solskaer’s side have endured an indifferent start to the season.

Mauricio Pochettino is out of a job having recently parted ways with Tottenham.
Mauricio Pochettino is out of a job having recently parted ways with Tottenham.
Image: Steven Paston

FOR THE FIRST 70 minutes at Bramall Lane on Sunday, Man United looked like a team that had stopped playing for the manager.

The Red Devils had been comprehensively out-thought and and out-fought by a side that were playing their football in the Championship last year.

Sheffield United, superb as they were, did not kill off the game though and were duly punished, with the entertaining affair ending in a 3-3 draw.

The energy the Blades had put in to the game clearly began to tell. They lost influential attackers Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick through injury and fatigue respectively. United, meanwhile, capitalised on their tiredness with an attacking blitz.

The visitors’ changes also made a difference, with Jesse Lingard and Mason Greenwood replacing Phil Jones and Andreas Pereira, both of whom did not have the best of days.

Twitter captured the mixed emotions. At 2-0, there was relative consensus that Solskjaer was set to be dismissed. Alex Ferguson and Ed Woodward appeared to be arguing with one another in the stands.

Suddenly though, the pessimism turned to optimism, as Man United produced an improbable Fergie-era-esque comeback, with three goals in the space of seven minutes.

Two of the goalscorers, Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood, were teenagers — the first time this has happened in a United team at Premier League level since Wayne Rooney and Giuseppe Rossi scored against Sunderland in October 2005.

Moreover, in the Europa League on Thursday, Man United fielded their youngest ever team in a European competition, with qualification to the next stage already assured.

Amid a 2-1 defeat to Astana in Kazakhstan, there were 11 changes from the Sheffield United game. Solskjaer gave senior debuts to teenagers Ethan Laird, Dylan Levitt and Bernard in addition to naming cancer survivor Max Taylor on the bench.

It’s hard not to suspect this policy is at least partially politically motivated. By introducing a plethora of youngsters into the senior team, Solskjaer is aligning himself with the tradition of the club and emphasising he needs time to turn the Red Devils’ fortunes around.

Yet whether he is afforded this luxury remains to be seen. What’s clear is the Europa League results don’t especially matter. Unai Emery was sacked today despite Arsenal reaching the competition’s final last year and being virtually certain of earning a place in the round of 32 this time around.

In the Premier League, the true barometer for a team of Man United’s ambitions, they have regularly struggled. They are currently ninth in the table, nine points off the top four and only seven above the relegation zone. They are one point behind Arsenal, who have just sacked their manager, and are level with Spurs, who recently let Mauricio Pochettino go.

United have managed just four wins from 13 league games this season and it could get worse before it gets better. While they will be expected to beat Aston Villa at home on Sunday, their subsequent two fixtures at Old Trafford are against Jose Mourinho’s seemingly rejuvenated Spurs and away to reigning champions Man City. Trips to Arsenal and Liverpool are to come in January.

You get the sense too that Solskjaer — a man with no top-level experience as a manager prior to being appointed at Old Trafford — feels his job is not completely secure given how readily the board have dispensed with previous managers in the post-Alex Ferguson era.

“I feared the worst at 2-0,” the Norwegian manager admitted to the BBC after Sunday’s game in Sheffield.

Prior to Solskjaer’s permanent appointment, Pochettino was strongly linked to the United job. His stock has arguably fallen since then, with Spurs’ league form getting steadily worse under his watch, even if this descent coincided with a remarkable run to the Champions League final.

Yet if you ignore the last few months, the scale of what Pochettino achieved at Tottenham was impressive. He turned a team that often underachieved and who were reeling from the rather underwhelming Tim Sherwood era to a side that regularly qualified for the Champions League and threatened to win the title on more than one occasion.

Man United look in a similar position to how Spurs appeared before Pochettino took over — a club with plenty of exciting young players but one that lacked real direction and identity.

Yes, the wheels ultimately came off at Spurs, but nearly every manager has a lifespan nowadays. In fact, for Pochettino to last over five years at the North London club makes him relatively unique in his longevity.

If the Red Devils keep faith with Solskjaer, they may miss their chance to appoint Pochettino — a man Ferguson famously described as the Premier League’s best manager not so long ago. Bayern Munich are currently without a permanent manager, while other big clubs are also likely to be interested in hiring him.

Of course, parting with Solskjaer would not be an unequivocally popular decision. United legends like Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville have all suggested the club should stand by their man and give the Norwegian more time.

Yet going with the consensus in football is not always wise. The likes of Ferdinand and Neville were adamant that United should give Solskjaer a long-term deal in the first place, and that decision is looking highly questionable now.

Premier League fixtures (all games kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise):


Newcastle v Man City (12.30)
Burnley v Crystal Palace
Chelsea v West Ham
Liverpool v Brighton
Tottenham v Bournemouth
Southampton v Watford (17.30)


Norwich v Arsenal (14.00)
Wolves v Sheffield United (14.00)
Leicester v Everton (16.30)
Man United v Aston Villa (16.30)

Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to discuss eye-gouging, Munster’s scrum-half situation, and the rest of the provincial news.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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