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There is no good replacement for Louis van Gaal at Manchester United

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The problem is not whether Jose Mourinho is a better call than Ryan Giggs. It's that the club is so broken that all the possibilities are somewhere between bad and dangerous.

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Here is the problem with the ongoing argument about who would be a good replacement for Louis van Gaal: Louis van Gaal still has his job. We know! "Weird" doesn't even begin to cover it.

But we don't expect that to last for too much longer, so here is the other problem with the ongoing argument about who would be a good replacement for Louis van Gaal: there isn't one. A good replacement, that is. There is a problem. That is the problem.

Take Jose Mourinho, as United will probably have to. The man comes with a list of negatives; some known, some deduced, and some assumed. There are questions about his agent, questions about his style, questions about his conduct and character, questions about his use of young players, questions about his recent record and, finally, questions about whether or not he might actually be teetering on the precipice of irrelevance, looking down at the churning seas of past it and done. And they are all pertinent questions.

Now, take Ryan Giggs, as Alex Ferguson, the Class of '92 and their friends in the media so desperately want us to. There's a shorter list here, but only because we know basically nothing about him as a manager except this: he isn't one. Well, apart from four games. And they were a diverting novelty at the end of a peculiar season, and included a home loss to a bobbins Sunderland. Still, he understands Manchester United's DNA, whatever the hell that is, and he's been hanging around for ages and he used to be quite an exciting winger.

Every other putative appointment beyond the two apparent frontrunners comes with their own list. Mauricio Pochettino? If he's even gettable, then it's probably worth thinking about the structures at the two clubs at which he's done well compared to the one he'd be moving to. Mark Hughes? Made a considerable bollocks of the last time he took over a cash-rich club with a shonky recruitment policy. Thomas Tuchel? Unai Emery? Antonio Conte? All would be stepping into the unknown. Steve Bruce? Have a lie down. They all have potential problems, and those problems aren't insignificant. Except Steve Bruce. He's just straight-up not good enough.

But all managerial appointments are risky. The problem with Manchester United is not just that the club have made two bad managerial appointments in quick succession, but that they have contextualised and enabled those bad appointments with a wide range of other bad choices, some of which date back years, and they're owned by a group of people who don't know what they're doing and, as long as the money keeps rolling in, don't care that nobody they employ does either. This means the bad choices are bad, and the risky choices are as risky as they could possibly be.

Any properly run club can offset the risks of any given appointment by ensuring that the surrounding structure is solid and supportive, and making sure they have people in place to do what a manager cannot. If a manager lacks experience in the Premier League, make sure he'll overseen by people who've been around a while; if they've got a poor record in the transfer market, take those decisions out of their hands. And if he turns out to be rubbish, he can be dispatched with a minimum of fuss. But the cult of the Manager-as-Overlord still reigns at United: in what should have been an early warning sign about the state of things to come, Louis van Gaal was genuinely taken aback by the amount of control Manchester United gave him control over transfers.

The only sensible thing Manchester United can try to do is make the least bad of all the bad choices, then work as hard as possible to ameliorate the negative consequences. So, taking the two frontrunners, that's a choice between "find a way to fortify and improve the structure of the club even while Mourinho is doing his narrow, short-termist, explosive thing that might come with trophies" and "find a way to compensate for Giggs' astonishing lack of experience and the likely friction his appointment would bring within the various personalities that make up United's hierarchies".

The former probably involves Ed Woodward recognising that he is not a director of football and finding somebody who is; installing that director of football/sporting director/whatever and a suitable support network of scouts regardless of any tensions that this might cause with Mourinho (or, more relevantly, Jorge Mendes); continuing with the reorganisation and modernisation of the academy regardless of whether or not Mourinho decides to use the footballers that it produces; and otherwise spending the next couple of years putting a structure in place that allows for managers (and their associated super-agents, coaching teams and baggage) to come and go. Because, ultimately, that's what managers are going to do, and any sensible club ensures that they do so with a minimum of disruption

The latter ... God knows. All of the above, plus a little bit of Alex Ferguson?

It is almost impossible to imagine Manchester United's hierarchy as it is composed at the moment pulling off the former. It is all too easy to imagine the latter becoming an institutional infight and power struggle of such proportions that your average Communist would stop and think "steady on, we're all on the same side here". If you had to pick one, you'd probably end up picking the Mourinho option, on the basis all that stuff is what the club should be doing anyway, and a couple of silver pots would buy time and keep the money coming.

But either way, here's how things are. First, anybody that tells you they know the right choice is fooling themselves: they mean "least wrong", or "most acceptably risky", or possibly just "most personally palatable". All of which are absolutely fine, of course, but none can be replaced with "this is the right person for the job".

Secondly, there is a very high chance that the next manager will also end up leaving early, after a couple of strange and frustrating years. And thirdly, there's every chance that the process of replacing that poor sod will involve a similar amount of weighing up the negatives and choosing the least miserable. Ultimately, the reason the discussion is so frustrating — and so irreconcilable — is that this is a managerial problem without a managerial solution. And that's really weird.