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Equal Time: Why Zinedine Zidane is the perfect replacement for Mourinho at Manchester United

Monday 27th August 2018

Inevitability, Jose Mourinho finds himself under pressure at Manchester United. Surrounded by unrest in the changing room, boardroom and pressroom, the Portuguese boss is running out of room and time. Third season syndrome's here again. 

In the three-way battle between Ed Woodward, Mourinho and Paul Pogba, one expects there must be at least one casualty. Guess who?

With both Ed and Pogba all about the show, Mou's caught in the middle. If he continues to oppose the forces of aesthetic and marketability, he'll end up on the chopping block. It seems a case of when more than if, however.

Talk regarding a suitable replacement is already making the rounds. Zinedine Zidane tops the list. Indeed, if reports from Spain are true, the former Real Madrid manager's already pursuing the job.

Some may argue the Frenchman isn't the right replacement. They're wrong. Zidane is just who United need. 

There's no arguing Zizou inherited a ridiculously talented squad but he inherited it because that talent was struggling. The obvious answer, particularly for a powerhouse like Los Blancos, was to spend. Zidane ignored the urge.

Instead, he worked with the material to hand. Work on the training pitch rather than in the transfer market proved the answer. He spent just €70 million during his two-and-a-half years in the Spanish capital.

Mourinho spent more on Romelu Lukaku. Zidane sees no challenge in spending someone else's money. He works on improving the investments already on the books. His approach aligns perfectly with United's ethos, more so since Ed Woodward shows little desire to continue spending.

Zidane can work with players because he holds the gravitas to command rather than demand their respect. It's not merely that he played the game although that carries a heavy weight. He relates to his players. In Madrid, he regained control over the dressing room that abandoned Rafa Benitez.

World-class players, particularly Cristiano Ronaldo, showed little respect for the Spaniard. Zidane received it almost immediately. It's easy to imagine a similar reaction occurring in the Manchester United dressing room.

Old Trafford is dominated by personalities, as was the case in Madrid. Several big names show little love for Mourinho. Zidane can command their respect, not only from his playing days but also from what he's achieved as a manager.

Pogba's ready to play for him. The midfielder's long desired to become a French icon in Zidane or Platini's mould. Former teammates, Rio Ferdinand in particular, are adamant it's the case. For a French footballer, Zidane's the zenith. Pogba’s respect is already won. The feeling's mutual. Zidane believes Pogba "can become one of the best players ever".

Unlike the enmity between Mourinho and Pogba, a strong, respectful relationship will become the norm. Rather than tiptoeing around the tension, other players would fall into line with the harmony.

Zidane doesn't focus on his stars alone. He held the group above all at the Bernabeu. He built his success on constant squad rotation. Every player became a key cog in the machine, enabling Zidane to have a Plan A, B, C, D and beyond. Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio became Spanish internationals on his watch. Achraf Hakimi blossomed for Morocco, Mateo Kovacic for Croatia. Real Madrid were a better squad for it.

At United, a talented squad yearns to be used in the same way. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will find greater roles. Old Trafford's vast wealth of youth talent would benefit. His work with young players should put Zidane at the top of the list when United decide to make a change. At Madrid, he worked to build a legacy for the period after his departure.

His signings also align with the methods Sir Alex Ferguson applied to great effect. There were no Galacticos. Youngsters such as Theo Hernandez, Dani Ceballos and Vinicius Junior arrived. They're now at Julen Lopetegui's disposal. Madrid has a visible core for years to come. United must rediscover such long-range vision. It's the perfect antidote to Mourinho’s wasteful impatience.

All these aspects overlook the man himself. Personality is everything. Mourinho's constant moaning and sulking breed a negative atmosphere. Zidane stands at the opposite end of the spectrum. He prefers a calm, patient approach. It resonates with the players, establishing a positive, hardworking group where everyone feels important. His relationship with the players was widely regarded as his greatest strength. While some used that as a club to attack his tactical acumen, a strong bond with the squad is perhaps the most important asset a manager can possess.

Rather than the constant ebb between disaster and success under Mourinho, serenity surrounds the Frenchman. For players and fans alike in Manchester, he'd offer some much-needed fresh air.

Only time will tell when a change is coming at Manchester United. At present, the signs do not look good for Jose Mourinho. The familiar third season syndrome appears to be in effect. There's time for him to turn things around. He's recently been filled with praise for Pogba and spoken positively regarding others in the squad. That's unfamiliar territory, however. Should Mou revert to his rancorous state, rendering change necessary, the club shouldn't look beyond Zinedine Zidane. Few managers are better suited to Manchester United.

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Sean Lunt

Football journalist working in the North West mainly covering Everton and Liverpool but with musings on anything football related. 


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