Manchester United recently announced that they will be creating a new Director of Football position. The newly created role will seemingly free Ed Woodward of his football related duties, an area in which he has been inconsistent to say the least. However, even with a new director it seems there is also uncertainty about José Mourinho’s future at the club. Even putting the team’s struggles aside, Mourinho has never stayed at the same job for more than 3 seasons, and the topic of his employment is dividing fans.
This article will evaluate the case for hiring Manchester United Legacies for the new Director of Football position, and/or manager should Mourinho depart.
Manager: Ryan Giggs
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way.
Ryan Giggs has had an interest in becoming manager at least since David Moyes was sacked, leaving Giggs as caretaker manager for the rest of the 2013/14 season. Giggs continued as assistant manager for two seasons under Louis Van Gaal, but left the post after José Mourinho’s arrival. When asked about Giggs’ departure Mourinho responded bluntly: Giggs wanted only to be manager. Giggs left because the job he wanted was Mourinho’s job, and if he wanted to move up in the world the only possibilities would be beyond the club he had spent his entire career at.
Two years on Giggs is still working on earning his managerial badges, and he is now manager of the Welsh national team with a contract that runs through the 2020 Euros. Unless Ed Woodward has lost it and sacks Mourinho way too early there is little chance of the manager’s seat becoming vacant soon, which gives Giggs plenty of time to show what he can do with a talented Welsh squad. He’s got a world class player in Gareth Bale and a very serviceable supporting cast that features quite a few PL veterans, such as Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams. It’s a challenging task taking this side to major tournaments, but its quite doable, especially considering the side’s remarkable Euro 2016 run. Giggs has found a chance to prove himself, and Manchester United should certainly keep an eye on his performances.
Director of Football/Manager: Gary Neville
Gary Neville has a long and storied playing career with Manchester United, but it’s his continued involvement in the game post-retirement that makes him a candidate here.
Gary, along with fellow Class of 92 legacies Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, and Nicky Butt, purchased non-league side Salford City Football Club in 2014. Gary took on a lot of the responisbility in assembling the staff and bringing in new talent. The club has won promotion 3 times in the last 4 years, and are now just one promotion away from competing in the English Football League 2, the fourth and lowest tier of the English Football League.
In 2015-16 season Gary became manager of La Liga side Valencia, but was sacked after 4 months due to poor results. In his 16 league games in charge Valencia won only 3, and failed to keep a single clean sheet. They were 6 points clear of the relegation zone at the time, a nightmare for a club that regularly competes for UEFA Champions League qualification.
However, despite the impressive work done in Salford, Manchester United is a different beast. When you’re at the bottom there is only one direction you can go, whereas Manchester United comes with pressure and expectations from every corner of the world to bring in only the best players and compete for every top competition. His venture into management offers little to be proud of, but it can be argued that Valencia were already in a bad position when Gary was brought in midseason.
Still, it would probably make more sense to bring in Neville as Director of Football rather than as manager. The knowledge and experience is there to justify the decision, and his history of success at the club and years under Sir Alex Ferguson’s tutelage will be exactly what the fans are calling for in club administration.
Director of Football: Paul Scholes
Paul Scholes may have spent most of his post-retirement career in football punditry, but there’s no doubting his brilliant football mind. He is considered one of the greatest midfielders ever, and according to Andres Iniesta and Xavi his performances and style are constantly mentioned at La Masia, Barcelona’s historic football academy. The two Blaugrana legends reportedly competed along with Lionel Messi to swap shirts with the Mancunian legend after the 2011 UEFA Champions League final, with Iniesta coming out on top.
Paul Scholes, like Gary Neville, has been heavily involved in building up Salford City FC, but a lot of attention has been brought to his career in punditry, particularly from Manchester United fans. Scholes is a regular critic of Manchester United’s performances. David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, and now José Mourinho have each had their fair share of misery as manager at Old Trafford, and there has been plenty to be critical of, but sometimes Scholes’ criticisms bite a bit harder than others.
Recently he has divided fans for his views on Paul Pogba, stating:
“There’s a lack of leaders in the team, that’s why we thought Pogba might be the ideal candidate to be that leader, but he wasn’t there. He had another really poor game. He’s so inconsistent.”
Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, lashed out at Scholes for his comments, tweeting: “Some people need to talk for fear of being forgotten. Paul Scholes wouldn’t recognize a leader if he was in front of Sir Winston Churchill.”
He then followed that up with: “Paul Scholes should become sports director and advise Woodward to sell Pogba. Would be sleepless nights to find Pogba a new club.”
So clearly there would be some trouble with Scholes, but his criticisms haven’t been irredeemable or unwarranted like those of some other former United greats (*cough* Roy Keane *cough*). It must still factor into the decision that Scholes could stir up this kind of trouble if brought in as Director of Football. Scholes may not even want the job considering his normally introvert personality, but his football intelligence could be vital to securing the talent necessary to restore United’s footballing reputation.
Director of Football/Manager: Eric Cantona
This one is a bit out there, and might be more of a fun idea than a legitimate option, but he’s certainly got the confidence for the job.
Eric Cantona hasn’t been involved in football in any capacity since 2012, and even then it was as football director for New York Cosmos, who later claimed his appointment was more of an effort to increase their brand. Cantona managed French Beach soccer for many years after retiring from Manchester United, and has also become and actor and a poet.
So why would Cantona be fit to return to Manchester United in any role?
Because he is Eric Cantona.
The enigmatic Frenchman became the star of Manchester United’s renaissance under Sir Alex Ferguson, helping the club to 4 Premier League titles and 2 FA Cups in the span of just 5 seasons. His personality was nearly as big as the club, but it was his philosophical take on the game that makes his footballing brain stand out.
“I didn’t study, I live,” Cantona once said. It not only defines his confident, creative, and successful approach to football, but also everything he’s done since football. He’s featured in some remarkable films, led French beach football to championship heights, and has certainly kept up with Manchester United. He’s even been consistently supportive of José Mourinho, although he did say he prefers Pep Guardiola’s style. With the current board seemingly falling out with Mourinho, it would be a welcome change to introduce someone who not only has a similar personality but also can work with the manager better than Ed Woodward can.
Director of Football: Sir Alex Ferguson
This choice would be higher up if not for Sir Alex’s recent health scare.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s record as manager speaks for itself, and his ability to set up a scouting system, manage the culture of a club, and bring in talent is hard to match in the history of any sport. Manchester United’s personality of dominance, global brand and commercial success are all from the work of this man
He is still technically on the board at Manchester United, given the title of “Director” and “Club Ambassador,” but he’s tried to stay out of the spotlight in efforts to remove the pressure of succeeding him from managers since, though his success still fuels the massive expectations that come with the job. José Mourinho no doubt has the confidence in his own storied legacy to remain slightly less overshadowed than David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, but he has yet to be shown the same trust from the rest of the board that Sir Alex has shown him his entire career. After all it was Mourinho who nearly toppled Sir Alex’s grip on English football.
However, Sir Alex’s health must always come first. The role of Director of Football at Manchester United may be less stressful on him than if he were still manager, but no amount of stress is worth the risk right now. If he feels the need to get more involved after his recovery then his input should and will be accepted at the club, but he has absolutely nothing more to prove. He’s a legend as is.
If the club want to stick with Mourinho they need to bring in someone who can work with him. It’s clear that Ed Woodward has lost at least a little patience with José, but someone closer to the football side of the football business needs to be brought in. There are a plethora of candidates with history at Manchester United with both established and entry level experience. Manchester United is a lifelong fraternity for many, and the opportunity to bring that experience back should be taken.
Honorable Mentions: Nicky Butt, Roy Keane, Edwin Van Der Sar