Manchester United’s long-term strategy, Darren Fletcher’s role and Mauricio Pochettino latest

Manchester United will be aiming to put the disappointment of Saturday’s goalless draw with Watford behind them when they face cross-city rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

United, who were beaten 2-0 by City in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford back in November, created a plethora of opportunities against Roy Hodgson’s side but were unable to make them count. The stalemate, however, was enough to keep them in the top-four, albeit by just two points ahead of West Ham United in fifth.

Although the draw with Watford did extend their unbeaten run in the Premier League to eight matches, Ralf Rangnick’s side have only won half of those, meaning draws are what are threatening to deny them a top-four finish this term. The prospect of missing out on Champions League football for next season could have huge ramifications for United, least of all the size of the challenge that will be generated for their next permanent manager.

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As well as being keen to see a new manager installed before too long, the fans also hope to see the squad freshened up with new faces this summer. West Ham United ace Declan Rice remains a top target and the need for a new striker has increased in recent weeks.

on friday, MEN Sports chief United writer, Samuel Luckhurst, hosted a Q&A in an attempt to try and answer as many questions as possible that United’s supporters had, ranging from Rangnick’s successor to United-linked Napoli striker Victor Osimhen.

Q: Top clubs’ owners have little or no interest in football, yet they insist on employing PROPER football people. Why don’t United? City had a plan in place for years & employed the two guys from Barcelona. We have Ed Woodward’s University rugger loving pals running the show, pandering to the Glazers at every whim.

Fletcher comes on board, what are his credentials? He’s promoted himself, waving his hands around barking orders. As Ralf said he doesn’t know what he does. neither do we, [the fans] Ralph. There is too much of the jobs for the boys culture, Mike Phelan being a classic example.

SL: I completely get what you’re saying. Fletcher’s quotes on the fans’ forum seemed to be a response to Rangnick’s blunt assessment of his role in the structure when he spoke to the Sunday newspapers a couple of weeks ago.

Fletcher’s role was also questioned on the last fans’ forum in December, as a supporter wanted to know why the technical director was in the dugout giving tactical instructions at Watford. Fletcher’s comments yesterday don’t wash.

He was involved in coaching soon after starting the technical director role, so it’s absolute waffle to claim his matchday role is part of the ‘transition process’ following the coaching departures. Sometimes the club thinks us journalists and the supporters were born yesterday. It’s important they’re held to account and their stance on matters never seems to be watertight.

One always feels like Columbo: “Just one more question.” I admire Fletcher’s world view of football and his enthusiasm for United. He skipped Wayne Rooney’s movie premiere to watch the Youth Cup win over Everton and was at Leigh on Tuesday night. But he has not operated like a traditional technical director since his appointment in March of last year.

Before and after that announcement, he laced up his boots and was involved in training, posing in ‘winning team’ pictures. United should know – they published the pictures!

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Fletcher’s equivalent at City is Txiki Begiristain and the nearest he gets to the training pitch at the CFA is the sidelines from where he observes the sessions. The studious Michael Edwards operates in the shadows at Liverpool.

Unfortunately for United, some can’t take Fletcher’s role seriously right now. Interview requests have been made to seek clarity but there is more chance of Paul Pogba signing a new deal.

Q: What is United’s longer-term strategy? How can we be sure that the new manager will not be making short-term decisions in order to safeguard his own job?

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SL: Where do you start? You can already imagine the United communications department drafting their script to excuse a 10th consecutive season without a championship challenge: “The new manager could only officially start in July. The season started earlier. A lot of players left. The winter World Cup was disruptive .” United also have an ineffectual ‘cultural reset’ to dismantle.

There are also caveats with the two front runners – [Mauricio] Pochettino and [Erik] Ten Hag. Pochettino’s aura diminished almost as soon as he knew he would not become the United manager in 2019 and Dutch observers have long assumed Ten Hag’s next job would be in Germany. Ajax only lead PSV Eindhoven by two points in the Eredivisie.

I think United are resigned to being also-rans until Guardiola and Klopp leave. And even if they do get the coaching appointment right, there is no proof the current structure will be successful.

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At City, they had it immediately as Begiristain and Ferran Soriano came from Barcelona.

Q: Why do Manchester United keep using Bruno Fernandes always in the starting XI? Why can’t they us Paul Pogba or Juan Mata instead in that position?

SL: Pogba is not a playmaker and Mata, who’s played three times this season, turns 34 next month. Both are also leaving in the summer.

Q: Why are Man United delaying on choosing Ten Hag for the next season?

SL: They aren’t delaying. I understand the appeal of Ten Hag – he would give United an identity and has done a terrific job at Ajax.

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Personally, I struggle to believe he could make United a competitive force in the Premier League. Patience would be required and United should have an element of impatience in their process to appoint a new manager.

The club is on the verge of suffering its most fallow period since the nine-year trophy drought between 1968 and ’77. United were relegated during that spell in ’74. They cannot countenance another Solskjaer-type where gradual progress suffices. And let’s face it, it didn’t suffice with Solskjaer. He was a failure.

Q: Who do you think Man United will appoint as the permanent manager?

SL: My gut instinct still says Pochettino as United wanted him originally, he wants them and they approached him last season. They tested the waters in November but PSG played hardball.

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Q: Could Luis Enrique be seriously considered for the job? I know it’s between Pochettino and Ten Hag but Enrique is a far better coach than both.

SL: Enrique would be my preferred choice. He’s succeeded at club level, is tough, preaches an intense and vibrant style and brings through young players.

But it would be remarkable if another Spain coach walked away on the eve of a World Cup (Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the 2018 finals after he agreed to join Real Madrid).

The timing of the World Cup is also problematic. United cannot start a season with an interim manager. Their credibility – already lacking – would be shot.

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Q: Any update on the defensive midfield shortlists for next summer? Or will that be based on which manager comes in next?

SL: No significant update and the manager will have a veto on any target if they don’t fancy them.

Q: There have been several reports linking Victor Osimhen of Napoli to United. How true is this to the best of your knowledge? What do you make or think of the player? Do you think he’s the right striker for United?

SL: When Rangnick said it was ‘obvious’ United needed a striker, that was permission for clubs, agents and reporters to put stories out there linking any striker with a pulse.

Napoli always seem to be quite vocal about the futures of prized assets. It’s all part of the posturing and rather tedious.

Q: Why don’t Man United want to sign Wilfred Ndidi to replace Nemanja Matic?

SL: Ndidi would be a worthy target but Leicester have been on the slide this season. I’m not necessarily sure [Youri] Tielemans will get the move he desires in the summer.

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