IAN HERBERT: United’s abject Atletico defeat was a BLESSING. They NEED Pochettino to bring back fear


At the bitter end of it all, what we saw on the Old Trafford pitch on Tuesday night summed up the nine desultory years since Sir Alex Ferguson walked away. 

A random bunch of superstars in Manchester United jerseys, arranged in no particular order and with no particular football strategy in mind, put out there in blind hope, rather than any coherent sense of expectation.

But though the team’s season is over, their fans should be glad of it.

Man United’s season is over after losing to Atletico Madrid, but their fans should be glad of it

Their superstars are put out there in blind hope, rather than any coherent sense of expectation

Their superstars are put out there in blind hope, rather than any coherent sense of expectation

The trouble with the mirages of the past few years is that they have obscured the truth about how United have lacked a coach who is remotely good enough. 

Second in the table last season? Calamitous, given that it delayed the decision to dispense with the inadequate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose appointment was an act of desperation after the inadequate Jose Mourinho: a self-absorbed has-been with his deluxe suite at the Lowry Hotel, who should never have darkened Old Trafford’s door.

There are no mirages today. As the minutes counted down to desultory Atletico Madrid defeat – with £260,000-a week Paul Pogba excruciatingly anonymous and Marcus Rashford tragically lost – there was a burning need to intensify the pursuit of a coach who can find the long road out of this purgatory. 

As Paul Scholes said at least six times on the utterly compelling BT Sport studio talk which followed Tuesday’s match: ‘This club needs a top class manager.’

The past few years have obscured the truth about how United have lacked a coach who is remotely good enough

The past few years have obscured the truth about how United have lacked a coach who is remotely good enough

For the first time in nine years, the outstanding candidate is actually available. United and Mauricio Pochettino are spinning into each other’s orbits, given the extraordinary state of civil war at PSG.

There’s no guarantee that Pochettino will take United all the way back to greatness and competitive credibility. But he will restore the component which is far more elusive and nuanced than is generally appreciated and which has been absent since Ferguson walked away. Fear.

Rio Ferdinand described on Tuesday night the utter euphoria he felt when substitute Michael Owen scored a 96th minute winner against Manchester City at Old Trafford in 2009 because it meant his own error, allowing Craig Bellamy an equaliser on 90 minutes, was wiped out.

‘I knew that going in the changing room afterwards I was going to get volleyed by the manager, Ferdinand said. ‘He was going to go bananas. I celebrated that goal and said, ‘Thankyou.’ I just walked in and said to the manager, ‘Thankyou very much.

‘That kind of fear has gone. I don’t know if there’s any United player who walks down that tunnel and feels the way the Liverpool players would feel, the Man City players would feel and how we felt.’

For the first time in nine years, the outstanding candidate -  Mauricio Pochettino - is available

For the first time in nine years, the outstanding candidate –  Mauricio Pochettino – is available

There's no guarantee that Pochettino will take Jadon Sancho and United back to greatness

There’s no guarantee that Pochettino will take Jadon Sancho and United back to greatness

The word conjures images of Ferguson and David Beckham, flying boots and hairdryers, yet it is far more complex than that, because Ferguson didn’t have to shout relentlessly. 

He created a competitive edge, leavened with occasional empathy and humanity, which left players in fear of failing him – not in fear of him. Watch the recent fascinating and touching interview between Ferguson and Cristiano Ronaldo on United’s website for a sense of how such a relationship works.

This is the precise quality that Pochettino would bring back to Old Trafford. It was actually one of the very topics of conversation he recalls from the dinner he shared with Ferguson at Scott’s in Mayfair, in 2011.

Over a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, Ferguson told him that when he took over at United, in 1986, there was only one first team player under 24 and that he thought that was a mistake.

‘Maybe other managers think it’s easier to win trophies with experienced players but Sir Alex and I both see that as a ‘laugh now, cry later’ approach,’ Pochettino reflected afterwards. ‘In order to create your own identity and a winning mentality, you need players who dream of reaching the first team. Players should be full of motivation and not expect their fathers or the coach to set the level of demand.’

Spain boss Luis Enrique

Ajax manager Erik ten Hag

For some reasons, Erik Ten Hag (R) and Luis Enrique (L) have become bound up in the discussion of who will next manage United

For some reasons – perhaps to fabricate the notion of competition – the names of Erik Ten Hag and Luis Enrique have become bound up in the discussion of who will next manage United, when Pochettino has actually been the required candidate all along. 

The candidate who best understands British players and the fundamentals of good management, which are as applicable to football as any walk of professional life. A capacity to hear, understand, challenge, motivate and make those beneath you better.

The next United manager will encounter a Manchester City and Liverpool for whom the next five years will not be a straightforward as the last five. Both will have managerial successions to navigate. City’s will come just a year from now. Such change brings sudden peril, jeopardy and far fewer certainties.

Overhauling those two clubs still feels a long way off – five years seems a very positive estimate. But from the ashes of another moribund season, there can at least be the beginnings of something better and brighter for United – as Scholes, with his usual searing vision, articulated so well.

‘For two or three years, you felt Liverpool and City coming,’ he said. ‘You knew they were coming. You knew they were getting better. We haven’t had that for ten years here. We can change that now.’

But he will restore the component of fear famous during the era of Sir Alex Ferguson

But he will restore the component of fear famous during the era of Sir Alex Ferguson



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