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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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United hiring Mancini may seem mad but it just might work

On the face of it, the idea of Roberto Mancini managing Manchester United might feel a little left-field, a wild-card candidacy. Scratch the surface, though, and there is a persuasive case to be made for the Italy coach.

t would not be without risk but, at the very least, he warrants a place in the conversation.

There are some United fans, inevitably, who may struggle to look beyond Mancini’s past association with Manchester City and the way it ended there, and concerns would not be unwarranted.

But it is eight and a half years since he left the Etihad Stadium, the man himself has long moved on and Old Trafford has not got close to laying eyes on the Premier League title in the intervening years.

Emotion and sentiment clouded United’s judgment in giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) the job full-time, or not parting company with him long before the axe finally came down.

So, the next permanent appointment has to be made in a cold-eyed manner. Managing United is not a popularity contest.

United obviously need a manager who makes players better, is tactically smart and can blend myriad talents and personalities into a strong collective with complete clarity over the way they want to play.

Talent has been stagnating or regressing for too long at Old Trafford and the lack of joined-up thinking has been clear to see in both their results and their performances. Ralf Rangnick will be expected to make improvements to that end during his period as interim manager until the end of the season.

Mauricio Pochettino, of Paris St-Germain, Ajax’s Erik ten Hag and Brendan Rodgers, of Leicester City, are among those expected to be under consideration for the hot seat, and perhaps Sporting Lisbon’s talented young coach, Ruben Amorim, or Graham Potter at Brighton will have their cases advanced.

Rangnick, who is expected to be involved in the search for the new man, may yet even enter the equation, although he is due to take on a consultancy role next summer and United appear committed to an external hire.

If Mancini has a trump card over the other realistic contenders it is that he has a proven track record of winning the biggest trophies and, unlike previous United managers Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, his best days are not behind him. Italy’s football under him has been of the progressive, attacking and winning variety.

Whoever lands the job will be expected to take on the enormous challenge presented by serial winners Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel at Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.

Mancini won three successive Serie A titles with Inter Milan and Euro 2020 with Italy last summer in addition to that Premier League title with City, when they pipped United on goal difference. He knows England, he knows Manchester and he knows how to get a team over the line.

There are question marks and clear obstacles, though. Italy could qualify for the World Cup via the play-offs in March and, at that stage, trying to extract Mancini may become too costly and difficult. He is contracted to the Azzurri until 2026.

Having passed on another Italian, Antonio Conte – the former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Juventus coach who is now in charge of Tottenham – in part because they felt he came with too much baggage, will United chiefs ultimately decide that Mancini is not worth the headaches either?

Still, there is an inherent danger in clinging too heavily to the memory of Mourinho, who was destructive in a way few are, and no one who works with elite managers, including Guardiola, Klopp and Tuchel, can expect an easy ride. They are all challenging in their own ways.

Those who know Mancini say, at 57 and with more than two decades of experience in management, he is less volatile than the firestarter City encountered and is better at managing up as well as down. Italy were in their biggest hole for half a century when he took over in May 2018 and revitalised the country’s appetite for the national team with a bold, inclusive, open-minded approach.

Experience was harnessed, youth promoted, opportunities given to those yet to make a name for themselves and the conservative style of the past diluted in favour of more stylish football that earned the moniker “tika-Italia” but still retained the defensive rigour for which Mancini is well known.

United may eventually resolve he is not for them, but his credentials are worth the consideration. 

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