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Next Man Utd manager: Five Gareth Southgate alternatives analysed as Ratcliffe reflects on Ten Hag future

Ryan Baldi
Gareth Southgate, the Man Utd badge and Sir Jim Ratcliffe

Sir Jim Ratcliffe could consider some alternatives to Gareth Southgate

Reports that Manchester United are considering England manager Gareth Southgate as a prime candidate to replace Erik ten Hag in the Old Trafford dugout for next season have drawn a mixed response among fans.

The Three Lions have unquestionably progressed during Southgate’s tenure, peaking with a run to the final of Euro 2020, where they narrowly missed out on glory at Wembley after a penalty shootout loss to Italy.

But Southgate has long received criticism for a risk-averse style of play and a loyalty to a number of ageing veterans at the expense of in-form emerging players with fewer caps to their name.

If United’s new part-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his INEOS group are intent upon moving on from Ten Hag this summer, here are five alternatives to Southgate they should consider.

Ruben Amorim

Just 39 years old, Amorim has earned rave reviews for his work in Portugal with Sporting CP.

The former Benfica midfielder led Sporting to a first title in 19 years in the 2020-21 season – his first full campaign in charge at the Estadio Jose Alvalade. Sporting finished five points clear of Porto at the top of the table and lost just once that season, a 4-3 defeat away to Benfica in their penultimate after the title had already been clinched.

That title victory was part of a domestic double, too, as Sporting also claimed the Portuguese League Cup, which they retained the following season while finishing second in the league.

What Amorim would offer United that Southgate cannot is an electric, attack-minded style of play that will excite fans inside Old Trafford. He has also proven himself to be one of Europe’s foremost tactical minds. Meetings between Amorim’s United and Pep Guardiola’s City would provide fascinating battles of footballing chess.

IN DEPTH – Gareth Southgate to Man Utd: England boss’ stance on Old Trafford switch revealed; Ratcliffe plan to axe Ten Hag takes shape

Roberto De Zerbi

However, if United are looking for a young, attack-first tactician who, unlike Amorim, comes with Premier League experience, Brighton’s De Zerbi would be an ideal candidate.

The 44-year-old Italian has impressed at the AmEx Stadium for the direct and adventurous style of play he has implemented with the Seagulls. He has also proven himself to be an expert developer of talent, maintaining the club’s reputation for unearthing unknown prospects and moulding them into multimillion-pound stars.

That is certainly a string to De Zerbi’s bow that would appeal to United’s new decision-makers, whose plans to rebuild around young talent rather than splashing huge sums on ready-made stars appears to borrow from the formula with which Brighton have found success in recent years.

Graham Potter

Another manager with a Brighton connection, former Seagulls boss Potter is believed to be among the frontrunners to replace Ten Hag at Old Trafford if the Dutchman’s tenure comes to and end this summer.

Like De Zerbi, Potter boasts a similar developmental track record. And unlike Southgate, Potter is renowned as a tactical innovator and training-ground master who extracts full potential from his players with his front-foot and dynamic style of play.

The biggest blot on Potter’s CV is, of course, he short-lived and deeply underwhelming time in charge of Chelsea, which is still his most recent post. But the struggles of his successor, Mauricio Pochettino, and those who came before him at Stamford Bridge suggest the club’s problems run deeper than the manager.

What’s more, despite his tumultuous Chelsea reign, Potter’s level of achievement within the day-to-day grind of club football far outstrips Southgate’s. The England manager’s only previous club-level role was three seasons in charge of Middlesbrough that ended shortly after relegation to the second tier.

Julian Nagelsmann

Julian Nagelsmann next to the Man Utd badge

He has been managing at the highest levels for close to a decade and is now, in his role in charge of the German national team, in the fourth post of his career. Yet remarkably, at age 36, Nagelsmann is the youngest manager listed here.

And that is why he represents the best of both worlds as a prospective hire for United: he has the youth and tactical innovativeness of the likes of Amorim but with the experience of having coached in the upper echelons of the game with RB Leipzig, Bayern Munich and Germany.

Nagelsmann has proven himself to be extremely malleable and versatile throughout his career, finding success with various formations and adapting to the demands of the players and clubs he has overseen.

In fairness, this is a trait Southgate shares. The Three Lions boss took England to the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup with a back-three, single-striker system, then evolved into a 4-3-3 set-up to best take advantage of the young talent emerging in central midfield and in the wide attacking positions.

But being younger, having already managed an elite club in Bayern and with a reputation as one of Europe’s foremost tacticians, Nagelsmann ticks more boxes.

Zinedine Zidane

Zidane is not as sophisticated a tactician as the other candidates named here, but his list of honours is second to none.

The legendary former France and Juventus midfielder’s glittering managerial career includes two La Liga titles, three consecutive Champions Leagues and two World Club Cups. He has worked with many of the greats of the modern game – from Cristiano Ronaldo to Luka Modric to Toni Kroos – and has built success on his ability to foster harmony among a squad of big egos and find a method of play that best suits the talent at his disposal.

Zidane would not be an easy appointment. Seemingly extremely picky about the jobs he will consider, he has thus far only ever managed former club Real Madrid, with two glory-filled spells in charge at the Bernabeu.

But with a standing in the game the commands instant respect from players and fans alike and a track record of success domestically and in Europe, Zidane provides the kind of man-management skills that are among Southgate’s biggest strengths but with a much stronger overall candidacy.

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