Caretaker hunt goes on

Poch avoids topic of full-time job; United eye Valverde as stopgap measure

LONDON • On paper, a Manchester United victory away from home in Europe, especially one that sent them through to the round of 16 of the Champions League, is a thing to be celebrated.

But the manner of the 2-0 triumph in Villarreal on Tuesday was too familiar for United fans, with their team below par and out of ideas for much of the contest, highlighting the urgent need for a tactically astute manager.

It was a win for caretaker boss Michael Carrick in his first game in charge, but he is not one for the long term given his lack of experience, as United find themselves in a precarious situation after sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday.

While Carrick, a first-team coach, handles the day-to-day matters, the 20-time league champions will continue their search for an interim manager until the end of the season, before appointing a permanent boss in the summer.

That is the plan for now, considering that United's top targets for the hot seat are currently in a job - Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain), Erik ten Hag (Ajax), Brendan Rodgers (Leicester). Two others, Zinedine Zidane (unemployed) and Luis Enrique (Spain), have rejected the role.

On Tuesday, Pochettino avoided any discussion of the United job and said his only focus was with the French side, even as there were widespread reports the Argentinian was unsettled at PSG and that he was also desperate to join United in mid-season.

He has also reportedly been approached by former United manager Alex Ferguson to discuss the job, but the club may have to fork out around £10 million (S$18.3 million) in compensation to prise him away from PSG immediately.

While acknowledging the short-term nature of modern football, he insisted he is happy to see out his contract in Paris until 2023.

"We're in a business where rumours are always there but these things cannot distract you. We're focused on giving 100 per cent for our club and on getting the best result we can tomorrow," he said ahead of yesterday's Champions League clash, in which he was coincidentally in Manchester to face Premier League champions City.

"We can't talk about that (United links) out of respect towards my club. What another club is doing in this moment is not my business.

"We're fighting for the league, fighting to qualify in the Champions League, we need to focus on that, that's my priority."

But the Argentinian, 49, who spent five years in the Premier League with Tottenham and took the club to the 2019 Champions League final before being sacked five months later, admitted things can change quickly.

"Football is today, it's not about tomorrow," he said. "Two years ago when we were at Tottenham, people were linking us with other clubs and look what happened. Football is about the present. You can say many things but in the end, it's about winning and you are always judged on your results."

Essentially, he is leaving the door open to United. Reports have also said PSG have been in contact with former Real Madrid coach Zidane, accepting that Pochettino's tenure could end soon.

Ten Hag, meanwhile, has said that United have not contacted him, instead of rejecting the job outright like he did with Newcastle earlier this month.

"My focus is on Ajax, the rest only distracts. I heard nothing about it, so I can't think about it," he said this week.

Both Pochettino and ten Hag are seen as the favourites to replace Solskjaer as they employ an attractive high-pressing and attacking style of play and have the ability to develop young players, which is a fit with the "United DNA".

Any movement now, however, is unlikely and United are pushing ahead to appoint an interim boss.

On Tuesday, The Guardian, the BBC and Sky Sports reported that the club have contacted former Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, who is unemployed, for the role until the end of the season.

It is understood that the 57-year-old has already discussed matters with United's football director John Murtough.

Former RB Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick, who is now the head of sports and development for Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow, is also being mentioned, as well as former United players Laurent Blanc and Steve Bruce.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'Caretaker hunt goes on'. Subscribe