With 13 Premier League titles, 11 FA Cups, and three UEFA Champions League wins (appearing in the last 19 consecutive competitions), Manchester United is considered one the preeminent football clubs in the entire world. Like Steinbrenner’s Yankees or the Miami Heat, success for them is not something to be enjoyed. Rather, it is expected. It’s not enough just to compete; a Manchester United squad must finish at the top of the table domestically, and should be competing in the Champions League every year. Unfortunately for United, there will be no trophies in 2013-14 and—unless they can make up three points on Tottenham over the teams’ final four matches—no European football in 2014-15.
With their worst season in decades showing no signs of turning around, Manchester United on Tuesday decided the time had come for them to fire manager David Moyes. The final blow was Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Everton (Moyes’ former club), which guaranteed that United would be left out of the Champions League for the first time in since 1995. Moyes will be replaced in the interim by club legend Ryan Giggs, who has been serving as a player-coach this season and has been with United since signing as a youth player in 1987.
A member of 1992’s “Fergie's Fledglings” (youth players who recruited under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson), Giggs will take the reins for a team that has looked out of sorts all season. With four league games left to play, United are already assured that they will finish with their fewest points and most losses in a season since 1989-90, two years before the Premier League came into existence. They’ll finish out of the top three in the Premier League for the first time in club history as well, and lost so many games at Old Trafford to lesser sides that to list them all would take up far too much space. Big signings Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini have disappointed, and many would argue it has been more due to the way Moyes deployed them than their actual form.
This was not the vision the United board had in mind when signing Moyes to a six year contract to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. Both hail from Scotland, and at the time of the hiring Moyes was praised for his “hard-working style and steely determination,” traits most often attributed to Fergie. Obviously, in hindsight it seems a bit premature to lavish such praise on Moyes, whose seeming lack of confidence in the media has made him a target for criticism all year.
With Moyes out of the picture, the question now shifts to who will be replacing him. There’s never a shortage of candidates for such a high profile position, and even managers with great jobs now would be foolish to not at least consider United if they come calling. Interestingly, not a single one of the main candidates is English, continuing in what has seemingly become a United tradition of looking outside of England for their leadership. Here’s a few of the names that could be sitting in the manager’s chair in Manchester next season:
- Ryan Giggs (Manchester United): While Giggs will be the manager in name for the rest of the season, it seems unlikely that he will have any power beyond setting the lineups and running the training sessions. He may have a future in managing—possibly even at United—but right now he is just too green to be considered a legitimate answer at a position that needs an experienced hand.
- Juergen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund): Klopp was considered a contender to replace Ferguson, and now Borussia Dortmund are insisting that he isn’t going anywhere. While he is certainly an accomplished manager (he just got Dortmund into a fourth consecutive Champions League for the first time in their history), he does not sound like someone interested in leaving. Seems like United may have missed their chance to get him last summer.
- Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid): A major strike against the former Argentina midfielder is that he does not speak English, although that is actually not as big a deal as one might think. Simeone is regarded as the ultimate “doing more with less” coach, as he has guided Atletico to the top of La Liga and a semifinal berth in the Champions League despite a much smaller budget than most teams. Considering he makes just €2.5 million a year (Jose Mourinho, for contrast, makes €14 million), United could snatch him away with a big offer.
- Laurent Blanc (Paris Saint-Germain): Blanc is a former United player, and with a slightly murky contract situation at PSG, seems ripe for the taking. His side are about to take another Ligue 1 title, and Blanc also has a Champions League appearance and Coupe de la Ligue title under his belt. He also won Ligue 1 with Bordeaux in 2008-09, and managed France in Euro 2012. Clearly, he’s got the qualifications.
- Louis van Gaal (Dutch National Team): The coach will be leaving the Netherlands after the World Cup, so he would be available at just the right time to take over the management role at United. He’s certainly managed big clubs before, too, with stops at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, and Bayern Munich. Reportedly, he may already be on his way to meet with the Glazers.
- Antonio Conte (Juventus): Conte is considered on the forefront of modern tactics, a welcome change from the boring style of Moyes. The Juventus boss has compiled an impressive record with the club, winning 98 of 145 matches and winning back-to-back Serie A titles the last two seasons and on the cusp of a third this year.
While replacing Moyes shouldn’t be too difficult considering his lack of popularity, it is worth noting that the former manager was not exactly put in the most favorable position to begin with. He was handed a team loaded with veteran players possessing considerable egos, epitomized by Wayne Rooney, whose feelings about staying with United seem to shift every few minutes. He was replacing a guy in Ferguson who had been running the team for 27 years, so obviously there were going to be some growing pains as Moyes made changes. And, on top of all that, the competition in the Premier League this season has been perhaps at its highest level in years.
While it doesn’t change the fact that United are having their worst season this century, it does mean that the challenge in rebuilding the team doesn’t end with Moyes’ firing. The next manager will still have the same issues to deal with, and we hope for the new manager’s sake—whoever he may be—that he will be afforded more time and patience than offered to his predecessor.Follow me on Twitter @dcsibor