They used to say the role of England manager was the impossible job, but these days it feels like the Old Trafford hot seat is the one that must come with a health warning. In fact, it’s become so impossible that just being linked with it is enough to take a hammer to a promising career.
When Leicester City thrashed Manchester United back in September it felt like Brendan Rodgers was well-positioned to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but since then the Foxes have had such a poor season that the Northern Irishman isn’t even part of the discussion now that a permanent manager is being sought.
That battle has been waged between Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag, but if the detriment to Rodgers was immediate, the fall from grace for the Paris Saint-Germain boss has only recently arrived and even Ten Hag is starting to have a wobble.
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United always had this break at the end of March circled as a prime opportunity to make progress with that appointment. But if they were hoping for clarity it hasn’t arrived.
Pochettino has his fans inside the United dressing room but it’s beginning to look like he has none inside his current dressing room. PSG have lost four of their last six games in all competitions and while the Ligue 1 title is still a certainty, that is never going to be enough silver to keep a man in a job in Paris.
The collapse at Real Madrid in the Champions League was striking but successive away defeats to Nantes, Nice and now Monaco, who beat PSG 3-0 on Sunday, reflect a team and a manager who are drifting apart. Pochettino might be a lot easier to appoint for United pretty quickly, but alarm bells should be ringing.
There was always a theory that Pochettino’s spell at PSG wouldn’t really impact his stature in the game, given he has never looked a natural fit for that squad, but this is beginning to spiral out of control and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the former Tottenham manager. He has compromised on his principles of him in Paris but perhaps that was the wrong decision, given the locals have never taken to his football of him and now a star-studded squad seem to have decided the season is already over.
United were admirers of Pochettino back in 2019, before handing Solskjaer a three-year contract, and he still has support inside the boardroom as well as the dressing room. But his 14 months at PSG have been mediocre and that has to be a concern.
It was almost fitting of United’s season that the two managers topping their shortlist for this summer were also dumped out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage. Pochettino’s PSG blew a two-goal advantage and Ten Hag’s Ajax lost at home to Benfica to exit a competition they were tipped as dark horses in.
Ajax really should have got past Benfica given their superb group stage record, and their exit was more of a surprise than PSG’s. The pressure got the better of them and now they have a fight on their hands to win the Eredivisie title. Ten Hag’s stock will be damaged if his side of it does n’t win the title this season, no matter how attractive the football is.
But while Pochettino’s side are cruising to the title and the Argentine’s stock is falling, Ajax are in a battle but Ten Hag might yet see his value remain stable. A 2-1 defeat at Go Ahead Eagles at the end of last month was problematic and they were 2-1 down at home to Feyenoord with 12 minutes to go yesterday.
That would have opened the door for PSV Eindhoven to go top, but two late goals earned Ajax a vital victory and kept some momentum rolling for Ten Hag. But after a shock exit from Europe, he really needs to guide his team to what should be a comfortable league title.
Short-term results shouldn’t be having too significant an impact on United’s thinking, but for Pochettino and Ten Hag these wobbles have come at inopportune moments. It’s certainly complicating the picture a little ahead of what could be a decisive two weeks.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.