Manchester United are in crisis talks and they have some big decisions to make.
The first is whether to stick with a manager who has clearly hit his zenith, and has shown no evidence to suggest that more highs are on the horizon. The second is who to replace him with.
According to reports, Manchester United’s owners have been locked in talks about whether to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or not in the 24 hours following the moment the club hit “rock bottom” with the 5-0 home defeat to arch-rivals Liverpool.
They are still undecided on Solskjaer’s fate, having only handed him a brand new three-year contract at the end of last season and backed him further by handing his assistant Mike Phelan a new three-year deal just weeks ago.
Given it’s so early into the season, a permanent manager will need to be found, rather than an interim one installed until the end of the season, as was what happened initially with Solskjaer.
And the name that is leading the way is that of former Chelsea and Internazionale manager Antonio Conte.
According to reports, Conte is open to becoming the new Manchester United manager, with Italian media suggesting contact has already been made with him from the club. He considers United a “special” club that he would be very interested in taking over and believes that he can be successful with the current squad of players.
He is usually reticent at taking a job when offered it in the middle of a season, but for a role like the one at Old Trafford, he would do it.
He is the best coach available to the club at the moment and has a long history of winning silverware, something United have not been able to do since 2017 when Jose Mourinho won the League Cup and the Europa League in the same season.
Conte first made his name at Juventus, the club he won five Serie A titles and a Champions League with as a player and one that he would go on to win three more Serie A title with as a manager. It’s the sort of pedigree as a former player that commands respect, like Solskjaer or Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid – an important trait in getting players immediately on your side.
He also ticks the Premier League experience box, winning a title in his first season at Chelsea with a revolutionary tactical masterclass of transforming out-of-favour players into starring wing-backs as he set a then record for the most consecutive league wins in a single season. He won 30 of 38 Premier League games that season – at the time another record.
He then went and did the same at Inter, this time ending Juventus’ nine-year stranglehold on the Serie A title in his second season at the club, after finishing as runner-up in the league and the Europa League in his debut season.
Make no mistake, if you’re looking for an instant impact, Conte is your man.
His spell at Juventus coincided with the arrival of Paul Pogba and subsequently the most prolific period of the Frenchman’s career to date, where forged his reputation as one of the best midfielders in the world – one that he has clung onto since returning to Manchester United, without ever replicated the form that earned him it in the first place.
Conte was able to find his best position, something both Mourinho and Solskjaer have failed to do, and reaped the benefits of it. If United’s hierarchy want someone to persuade the World Cup winner to sign a new deal at the club, Conte is again your man.
But it’s not just Pogba he can rejuvenate. Jesse Lingard looks like he was born to play in a Conte team, while Donny van de Beek, who was nominated for the Ballon d’Or before joining United, is in desperate need of a fresh start like the ones the Italian gave the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Victor Moses, Ashley Young, Romelu Lukaku and many, many more.
He has the experience of successfully managing a club bursting with egos and players who have been reported as difficult to deal with in the past, including Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Sanchez and Lukaku but to name a few.
However, Conte’s successes come with the acknowledgment that they’d don’t usually last very long and often end with relationships pushed all of the way to breaking point – with players and the board.