From youth development to handling setbacks, candidates are now being quizzed on their footballing philosophies with the hunt for a new boss finally underway at Old Trafford, writes Mark Douglas
The starting gun has been fired on the race to be next Manchester United manger.
Ajax’s Erik ten Hag is the first candidate to be formally interviewed, although i understands that has as much to do with the friendly relations between the two clubs as it does about his front-runner status.
The club are stressing others will be interviewed. Mauricio Pochettino, Luis Enrique and Sevilla’s Julen Lopetegui are also candidates.
Here are the issues they will be asked about when United’s hierarchy sit down with them:
How do you get more out of a stuttering squad?
United’s net spend in the last decade is almost £1bn – a hefty bill for a sprinkling of Europa League runs and an FA Cup victory served over a main course of mediocrity.
That points to serious, deep-seated issues in recruitment and whoever assumes control at Old Trafford in the summer will need to help the club break the cycle of looking to every summer window as the golden ticket out of the mess.
The next head coach must be able to coax more from a group of players who are underachieving and have been allowed to grow stale. Big names like Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire are viewed as part of the problem – but everything can’t be ripped up. How does the new man intend to revive them?
Ten Hag is a training ground coach who leads from the front, unlikely to do the delegating that undermined Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
What is your view on recruitment?
United have been left behind by rivals who move with more agility in the market and plan to change that this summer. That means the transfer vision of the next man at Old Trafford is of critical importance.
The next head coach won’t have the final say over buys but his influence will be critical. The club’s interest in Declan Rice, rated at £150m, is an indication of where they go next.
How will you utilise the youth academy?
It is a key part of the club’s DNA that it promotes from within and adhering to those values explains why most of the candidates are those who work best within the framework of a long-term project.
Those in the game suggest United’s next generation have plenty of rough diamonds to be polished up – and a key consideration is how the next man will do that.
Ten Hag’s work in Ajax’s hothouse of young talent may give him the edge.
How will you change United’s style of play?
United have a clear, historic identity: front-foot football utilising wide players. They have played much of their best football with two forwards.
How does the new man intend to update that vision in the face of competition from three Premier League rivals who have arguably the best managers in the world right now?
Pochettino’s work at Paris Saint-Germain has been unimpressive as he has struggled to integrate a galaxy of stars. But he was exemplary at Tottenham Hotspur.
Ten Hag likes wide players and presses full-backs high up the pitch which looks like a good fit.
How do you handle scrutiny?
United may not win things anymore but they remain at the centre of the Premier League universe.
English football still hasn’t quite adjusted to their fall from grace, with every defeat prompting a major inquest and former players lining up to proffer hot takes on how the club can return to the summit.
It is a key consideration – can the new man handle that scrutiny? Ralf Rangnick may not have pulled up trees in his interim role but his blunt honesty in press briefings won admirers as he rebuffed countless briefings about unhappy players. It is a blueprint for his successor.
Spurs reportedly moved on from Ten Hag because an initial interview left them underwhelmed and his English has been questioned.
But those who know him say he has perfect mastery of the language and point to Ajax’s role in Dutch football as proof he can handle a 24-7 news cycle.
Thomas Tuchel looks as if he’s going to be difficult to prise from Chelsea but his recent fronting up has shown he’d be the ideal man to shoulder this.