It didn’t take long. Just 24 hours after Manchester United’s first defeat of the season and Antonio Conte was being linked with the Manchester United job.
Playing right into the social media hysteria which follows every rare United loss, Gianluca di Marzio told Sky Sports that Conte would be keen on the Old Trafford job if it were available.
Well right now the job is not available and nor do we expect it to be anytime soon.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed a new deal just this summer and while that does not guarantee anything in the often crazy world of football, United have stayed patient with the Norwegian through worse results and spells.
The Conte reports are a load of hot air, lapped up by the national media to drive controversy and sell papers around United’s name. This is not a managerial change United will be making this season.
Stock high, wrong man
Conte’s stock is high after leading Inter Milan to the Serie A title last season. He quit promptly after amid internal wranglings at the club.
That was typical of Conte. He has become a short-term fixer who can deliver success on a short-term basis. But just like his spell at Chelsea, his stint at Inter was over as quickly as it began, with the Italian side facing another rebuild.
Conte is like Jose Mourinho in that he wants total control. It wouldn’t work at United and he would likely up and leave within two or three seasons.
He has a particular system and way of playing with three at the back, which would not fit United. Currently the Red Devils’ team is flush with wingers, who would be deemed expendable.
Conte’s transfer policy at Inter was also odd, targeting veterans like Ashley Young, Alexis Sanchez and Matteo Darmian as he tried to find a short-term fix. To his credit, it worked, but now he has left and Inter are stuck with them.
One big reason against Conte is his poor Champions League record. It is no better than Solskjaer’s. Last season his Inter side finished bottom of the group behind Real Madrid, Borussia Moenchengladbach, and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Solskjaer still needs to improve
So Conte isn’t the solution, but the catalyst for these reports needs to be addressed, and that is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Champions League record.
Solskjaer has lost seven out of 11 games in the competition as United boss and his critics are gleefully claiming he is out of his depth.
It is up to Solskjaer to prove them wrong over the next five matches.
United’s squad is now built to win. It’s not totally complete, but it’s more than good enough to be qualifying from a Champions League group of Villarreal, Atalanta, and Young Boys.
And qualification is the most basic expectation. United fans expect to win silverware this season, one way or another. Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival increases the pressure on the manager, who has also been backed by the signings of Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho.
Solskjaer in our eyes probably has two seasons. The board can forgive him a near-miss if United get close this year. After that the cut-off to win becomes absolute.
But if United crash out of the Champions League group stages this season, it will be seen quite rightly as a catastrophe and that timescale could change.
Solskjaer has the backing of United supporters but it is still recognised that he has to improve. His in-game management skills in key situations has been suspect at times.
The defeat at home to PSG last season and this latest one against Young Boys were a mess, with bizarre substitutions which just seemed to make it worse.
When United go down to 10 men in future, which is inevitable at some point, Solskjaer needs to coach his team to play football, and not just fold and try and defend to steal a goal on the counter.
If he can show growth and improvement in these situations then United will be better for it.
Defeats happen, but Solskjaer was always going to be given short-shrift in the media this season after the Europa League final loss, as opposed to if he had won it. While that final was decided on penalties, the wider view was that Solskjaer was out-coached by Unai Emery.
Now Solskjaer will have two group games to show he has grown and can get the better of Emery’s Villarreal home and away. That would be a great way to demonstrate his improvement.
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