Ask a huge chunk of Manchester United faithful about the club’s future, the consensus response would almost certainly be Zinedine Zidane.
The Frenchman is perceived as the anointed candidate to restore dignity and pride back to Old Trafford. In reality, though, is Zizou really the Messiah?
United’s crisis has been well documented this term. Jose Mourinho’s incoherent side slipped to 10th after Saturday’s defeat at West Ham. The Red Devils are already nine points behind biggest Premier League rivals, leaders Liverpool and Manchester City. Chelsea is seven ahead while North London co-tenants, Tottenham and Arsenal are five better.
It’s United’s worst league start since David Moyes’ five years ago. To be fair to the Scotsman, his team faced City, Liverpool and Chelsea in those opening matches. Mourinho, meanwhile, dissipated all three points against Brighton, Spurs, West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers – all supposedly weaker sides.
Since Moyes is the benchmark for failure, the ex-Everton manager wasn’t booted out of the League Cup in the Third Round. His side even ousted Liverpool.
Mourinho’s men, in contrast, crumbled to second-tier Derby. You would have to travel by to almost three decades to find the worst start when the Red Devils finished 13th.
United’s football has been appalling to watch. The ones entertaining Red Army have become a shadow of previous self. Villains, they flaunt a negative brand unfamiliar at Old Trafford. Mourinho’s tactics highly culpable. The Portuguese sets up his team essentially to defend, with the hope to catch opponents on the break.
It hasn’t worked. The club’s supremely talented creative sparks are missing power source.
Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and even Romelu Lukaku are grappling for form. Paul Pogba, too. Although the Frenchman publicised bust-up with his manager hasn’t helped. Both unable to tolerate each other’s ego.
Zidane, however, is a far better man-manager.
“He has all the qualities necessary to be a fantastic manager: charisma, personality and experience,” Ancelotti had said two months before his Real Madrid appointment in 2016. None of the traits he listed related to tactics. “When Zidane talks, the players listen,” the Italian added.
Zidane, the footballer, was probably the greatest of his generation. Blessed with finesse, control, touch, balance, dribbling and juggling abilities, Zizou was the smoothest players of all time. He was a winner. It was little surprise he made the smooth transition into management, turning Rafa Benitez’s crippling team into treble Champions League winners.
Benitez’s bombs had nothing to do with a lack of knowledge or tactical nous. Rather inability to manage individuals and egos. Zidane, meanwhile, built stronger bonds within his squad, in a dressing room that certainly holds sway. What he lacks in managerial ability, he more than makes up for in charisma. In a United dressing room littered with egocentric individuals, Zizou’s skill could be key.
However, Zidane could struggle at Old Trafford owing to the porous squad. The Frenchman inherited a Los Blancos squad at the peak of their prowess, planted by Mourinho, sprinkled by Ancelotti.
All he did was harvest without much labour. Although he produced rapid fruits in Spain’s capital, Zizou is by no means the quick-fix manager United crave.
At Real, he was adored. Every youngster wanted to be like the Frenchman. It is entirely different in Manchester, though, where no one really cares. Zidane isn’t the most tactical gaffers around also.
“I am not the best coach tactically,” he admitted himself. In English top-flight, mere psyching of players with little or no technical input may be insufficient.
Former United forward, Louis Saga, agrees. “Zidane? He would want to pick a big team with big players, at Real Madrid he had a team of Galacticos – but it’s a different set up at Manchester United. He would have a lot of coaching to do, more than just management.”
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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