Is Antonio Conte the right man at the right time for Manchester United?

The obvious comparison is with Jose Mourinho, but there are significant differences between the two men
Is Antonio Conte the right man at the right time for Manchester United?

Antonio Conte.

For the Italian media it was only a matter of time before Manchester United came knocking for Antonio Conte.

That Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job now seems safe is being essentially seen as a reprieve rather than a vote of confidence.

Taking their cue from the English press, the Italians are convinced that the day of reckoning has simply been deferred until after the Manchester derby on November 6. A “logical” decision, says Stefano Boldrini of the Gazzetta dello Sport, given that “the international break will allow the eventual new manager to begin his job with two weeks’ time at his disposal.”

It also makes sense given that United’s coming three games would have presented a new man with a very exacting challenge: “The game against Tottenham will be a battle: Nuno Espirito Santo is also at risk of the sack.”

Conte is also the logical choice. After all, the Premier League already has the best from Spain and Germany in post. In the absence of a proven English, or even British, winner there could surely only be a shortlist of one — and that was before those calamitous 99 minutes at Old Trafford on Sunday.

There is an element of nationalism in this of course. Italy won the European title at Wembley in July so it seems almost insulting to overlook the claims of the best Italian manager available.

The unspoken question, in Italy if not elsewhere, is whether Conte truly is a perfect fit to make a success of the United job.

He does tick a lot of boxes. Tactically he is up with the best. His record suggests that he could quite rapidly marshal that dysfunctional defence. He has the character and the credibility to deal with underperforming stars. He also has the intelligence and the coaching ability to enable lesser lights to shine: Think of Victor Moses at Chelsea and before him Emanuele Giaccherini for Juventus and Italy.

United have numerous players who could be expected to improve with Conte’s guidance, among them Raphael Varane, Alex Telles, and Diogo Dalot at the back, and Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial further forward.

The mood around the club would be in for a dramatic shift, and on past performance, the Old Trafford crowd could be quite readily won over.

The obvious comparison is with Jose Mourinho, and United have already been through that special combination of charm and spite.

In fact there are significant differences between the two men. Mourinho is a Machiavellian type, a calculator and an outstanding manipulator.

Conte is a more genuinely passionate man who coaches teams much as he played the game, full on, and who can say things without fully thinking through the consequences.

The clumsy fall out with Diego Costa is one example. Conte most probably decided to burn his boats with the player, but the manner in which he did so seriously damaged his rapport with the Chelsea board, in particular Marina Granovskaia. Another factor creating tension was the size of the Conte entourage.

At Juventus in his final season Conte also managed to offend several of his most loyal players, among them Gigi Buffon. His enthusiasm enabled him to repair the damage during his time in charge of the national team for Euro 2016, but it helped that all concerned were aware that he would depart when the tournament was over.

There are alternatives to Conte, even if some are the wrong side of 60. Zinedine Zidane is second to none for charisma, and he has worked with both Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo. Lucien Favre — reportedly a target for Newcastle’s new owners — would also match United’s attacking philosophy. And then, lurking quietly off the media radar, is a former United Premier League winner, and three times winner of the French title with Paris Saint-Germain. It is a bit of a mystery why Laurent Blanc dropped out of management for four years, but he is now back working in Qatar, and has a CV that includes rescuing the French national team after its total collapse.

So there are reasons why Avram and Joel Glazer — and definitely Ed Woodward — might ponder a while before making as dramatic a shift as replacing Soskjaer with Conte. A good consultant would advise that they need to change their management structure as much as the personnel.

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