Equal Time: Why would Zinedine Zidane come to Manchester United?
Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and Jose Mourinho working his way towards the exit door in his third season.
After two seasons at Manchester United, Jose looks to be working his ticket again. The Portuguese supremo appears to be lining up another hefty severance package. The routine begins with a few odd press conferences, progresses to public rows with people at the club and culminates with a bad run of results. As it stands, we're somewhere between phases two and three of 'Operation £12 million in Jose’s bank account'.
Those who believe they're reading the final pages in Mourinho's United chapter are skipping ahead to the next section, looking for the next boss to take a run at living up to Sir Alex Ferguson's legacy. A few names have been mentioned. The most common is Zinedine Zidane.
The Frenchman's CV is as impressive as it is brief. Zizou won three Champions League titles in two-and-a-half seasons with Real Madrid. That's it. One entry under top-flight clubs managed.
It ought to be sufficient. No other club won back-to-back titles in the Champions League era [from 1992 forward]. Only Bayern, Ajax and Real Madrid won three or more in the European Cup era. The Dutch and German giants did it in a six-year stretch in the 1970s, powered by Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer respectively. The Merengues claimed the first five Europeans to be contested, beginning in 1955/56. Alfredo di Stefano was the main man. No manager ever won three consecutive Champions Leagues-slash-European Cups before Zidane.
Soon after delivering his third title, the bullet-headed boss announced he was leaving Real, citing exhaustion. Now, rumours suggest the iconic midfielder misses the action. Although there's nothing firm from the man himself, media sources allege he might be ready to come back to football, with United piquing his interest.
On paper, it sounds perfect. The wealthiest club in the world led by a man who's just won three consecutive Champions League crowns. However, it’s not so straightforward.
Maybe it's harsh to deny Zidane full credit for his achievements but there’s no arguing he found himself in perfect circumstances at Real Madrid. He was on the coaching staff when Carlo Ancelotti delivered La Decima. He then coached Real Madrid Castilla, the B team. Zidane knew the squad, the board and the environment inside-out when he was hired promoted to the first team 18 months later, replacing Rafael Benitez.
He didn’t make many changes. His tactics were similar to the former Liverpool boss. The squad changed little, as well. Throughout his tenure, the club never signed an out-and-out first team player. He'd been given everything he needed.
Madrid’s Gala XI never changed under Zidane. The difference was his ability to command respect, communicate and motivate. Benitez demanded an intense work rate but never gained the player's confidence. When Zidane came in, the world-class roster recognised one of their own. They began working for each other. Unsurprisingly, results improved.
United could do with the same treatment. The bodies thrown under the bus are piling up under Mourinho. Confidence is shattered. Zidane would give the players a lift even though he is not connected to United like he was Real Madrid. The problem is Manchester United aren’t about second best. Their current personnel can't compete for the Premier League title. The quality at Old Trafford's a million miles from what Zidane inherited at the Santiago Bernabeu. Zizou hasn't proven he can assemble a team
United's squad isn't as deep as Madrid's. David de Gea, Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku are the Red Devils' only world-class performers. Despite their ridiculous spending, too many gaps must be filled before United can contend. The club needs someone who knows how to overhaul the squad while still getting results if such a coach exists.
For me, Zidane isn’t that man. He spent two-and-a-half years with Real, won pretty much everything he could, then left. He’s a sprinter. United need a marathon runner.
Zidane remains the popular choice among fans but short of bringing back Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s best option is Mauricio Pochettino. However, the Tottenham gaffer just signed a new deal and Daniel Levy is not one to have his pocket picked.
The United board might choose the 'easy' option in pursuing Zidane but the past five seasons should have taught them nothing is ever easy.