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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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Next Manchester United manager will be handed opportunity by Liverpool and Man City changes – Manchester Evening News

If you were writing a book on succession planning when the time comes for a dynasty to end, you’d visit Old Trafford to research the chapter on how not to do it.

Manchester United were a machine under Sir Alex Ferguson, but the speed at which the most competent, controlled club in the land fell apart once the Scot left has been startling.

We are now nine years post-Ferguson and United’s title drought is going to continue. Soon the fourth manager to try and replicate Ferguson’s success will be given his P45 and United will be hoping it’s fifth time lucky.

The only real link to the Ferguson era now is the man himself sitting in the directors’ box.

If the key to making sure the success continues is making the transition as smooth as possible, then United have gradually eroded those principles over nine years, which have provided a bumpy ride. The muscle memory from the Ferguson era has gone.

The reason this is relevant at the moment is that United’s greatest rivals will be facing similar dilemmas of their own in the next few years. Under Pep Guardiola Manchester City have filled the gap vacated by United and Jurgen Klopp has put Liverpool firmly back in contention every season as well.

But Guardiola’s current City contract expires at the end of next season and he is expected to leave the Etihad after seven years. In 2024 it looks set to be Klopp bidding an emotional farewell to Anfield after nine years. How either club go about replacing two of the greatest managers in the game will be fascinating.

Both squads are packed with world-class players but as United are proving at the moment, that is no guarantee of success. It’s only part of the puzzle.

Guardiola has stayed at City longer than anyone expected but the dilemma is how a club that was built for him long before he even arrived copes once he leaves. The appointments of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain were designed to set City up for Guardiola. His appointment was the pinnacle for the Abu Dhabi regime. Soon they will have to work out what comes next when the plan was always for this.

Liverpool’s long-term plan might never have been based around Klopp specifically, but once he arrived he has built the club in his image. His personality has made him the brightest star at Anfield and carried the squad along on a journey with him. An emotional slump when he leaves will be almost guaranteed.

So, just as City and Liverpool were the benefactors when United failed to build on Ferguson’s dynasty, now they can make sure the picture comes full circle by being the best-placed team to capitalise when Guardiola and Klopp leave the Premier League.

In terms of building a squad to do just that, they are probably not far away, although it’s clear upgrades are required in central midfield and by 2024 a new centre forward will be on the agenda as well.

But, United’s biggest issue now is finding a manager who can end the sense of drift that has accompanied the club since 2013.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has built an excellent squad and returned unity to Old Trafford, but it’s become clear the 48-year-old lacks the tactical and coaching acumen to take the fight to Guardiola and Klopp, and to propel this squad to the next level.

There’s not necessarily any shame in that. In Guardiola and Klopp — and now Thomas Tuchel, and perhaps even Antonio Conte — some of the best coaches in the world are in the Premier League. But soon two of them will be gone. That’s when United need to be ready to take advantage.

Getting the next appointment right will be absolutely crucial. It seems hard to envisage a scenario where Solskjaer survives until the end of the season right now, never mind another campaign. It seems a matter of when, rather than if he’s replaced.

United have lurched from manager to manager without a clear plan since 2013. Solskjaer has given them a sense of continuity, the idea that not everything needs to be ripped up if the manager is sacked. They must appoint someone who can continue that work while taking the squad up a level or two on the training ground and in matches.

Whoever comes next must be the manager that can put United firmly back in their place as the best club in the country comes 2023 or 2024. United had designs on winning the title this season, but by the first week of November that already looks to be an impossible task.

There is an opportunity coming for United, though. City and Liverpool will not be as formidable once Guardiola and Klopp have gone. United won’t be the only club hoping to take advantage but to make sure they’re the best-placed they have to finally appoint the right manager.

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