Sunday’s match at Wembley was billed as an audition, a litmus test for both Mauricio Pochettino and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to determine who will be appointed permanent Manchester United manager in the summer. This was a top six clash with various storylines to follow, but the predominant narrative focused on the two men in the dugout.
Despite Sky Sports’ apparent determination to sell this fixture in such a way, the match between Spurs and United was never likely to be an audition. Solskjaer did his chances of getting the job full time no harm by clinching a valuable 1-0 win, but there was no straight shootout between two men.
Instead, Man Utd have briefed that they will conduct a thorough recruitment process to find Jose Mourinho’s successor. This process will involve the identification of several candidates to ensure the same mistakes in hiring the wrong man are not repeated. It therefore shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to read over the weekend that Gareth Southgate was one of those candidates.
And yet many reacted in outrage at the mention of the England manager’s job in relation to the vacancy at Old Trafford. England fans howled in indignity that Southgate, a man who has become a national icon over the past year or so, could be lured away. That was an understandable reaction. The reaction of some United fans, however, wasn’t so understandable.
They claimed Southgate is below their club, that he is not qualified for such a position. But why shouldn’t Southgate be candidate for the Manchester United job? The 48-year-old ticks many of the boxes that will surely form the criteria for the next managerial appointment at Old Trafford. It’s not such an outlandish suggestion that he could be a good fit.
Southgate, after all, is an advocate of the type of fast and furious football that United fans want to see from their team. He plays the ‘United Way,’ whatever that truly is. What’s more, he has a proven track record of bringing through young players and harnessing them at the top level of the sport. This is another thing that brings him in line with Man Utd’s identity as a club.
He has also shown with England that he can work with talents like Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, who increasingly, with every barnstorming performance under Solskjaer, seems to embody United’s future. Southgate has faith in the young forward and would surely get the best from him, just as he does for England.
If Southgate can revive a national team, why can’t he revive Man Utd? Solskjaer has achieved great success in a short of time at the club by simply lifting the mood in the dressing, by making the players feel good about themselves. This was a big factor in England’s run to the semi finals of the World Cup.
Of course, Southgate’s appointment at Old Trafford would be reminiscent of Julen Lopetegui’s hiring at Real Madrid, and that move didn’t exactly work out too well for the former Spain boss. The switch from national team to superclub within the same country created a political goldfish bowl that magnified Lopetegui’s every move. He was doomed from the very start, lasting just 14 games at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Southgate might not be the best, most qualified candidate on the shortlist, but he certainly deserves his place on there. Man Utd are looking for a very particular kind of manager this time around, not just a winner as was the case with Mourinho, and the England boss is worthy of an interview. Rather than being condemned as a mark of how far United have fallen, of their lack of direction, this should be seen as a sign of how they are trying to do things differently this time.