Is Zidane really the best man for United?

With Jose Mourinho's future at Manchester United in severe doubt, Football Whispers considers whether Zinedine Zidane is the right man for the job.

Posted by Tom Bodell

(L-R) coach Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool on May 26, 2018 at NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine

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The pressure on Jose Mourinho only increased after a disappointing defeat to West Ham United at the weekend. Rumours of Zinedine Zidane being lined up, naturally, have intensified.

Our friends at Football Whispers have taken a look at whether the World Cup winner and former Real Madrid manager is the right man to step into the Old Trafford dug-out.

It’s the latest hit British thriller. The Bridge, The Fall, now – The Call. Jose Mourinho, under pressure and looking over his shoulder; Zidane, ringing the Manchester United manager to assure him that nobody was conspiring to oust him behind his back. Reassuring.

Will Mourinho trust him? Is there a conspiracy after all? What are Zidane’s motivations? The public are hooked, and they can’t wait for the next episode.

But is Zidane the right man for the job? His three Champions Leagues, one La Liga, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups would suggest that yes, he would certainly be a good option.

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However, there still remains question marks over Zidane’s managerial quality. For a start, he’s only had one very short stint as a top-level manager (albeit a fantastically successful one).

Did he just happen upon a great set of players who suited him well, at a time when Barcelona were fading on the domestic and European stage, and benefit from the luck of the draw that knock-out Champions League football can give you?

Ticking boxes

Even though he is inexperienced, there are a few things which play in the Frenchman’s favour.

The first is his career so far, as both a player and a manager. Perhaps it isn’t fair, but there seems to be a sense with some players that they struggle to be told how to play at the highest level by a manager who never played there themselves.

Just on his illustrious playing career, every player at Manchester United will feel that they can learn something from Zidane. Unless he is a truly terrible coach – which it doesn’t seem he is – Zidane would have a lot of immediate goodwill towards him, which should translate into work-rate on the training ground and the pitch.

Manchester United to win a major trophy this season – 4.90*

A similar effect will come from his short managerial career.

Comparing him to David Moyes – not a comparison often made – the Scot got off on the wrong foot with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at United by advising them to look at videos of Phil Jagielka.

Now, it may have been the case that there was a part of Jagielka’s game that the two United legends could genuinely have learnt from, but the implication that the pair were lesser defenders than the Everton man didn’t go down well. There’s little chance that Zidane could cause similar offence by recommending that some of his new players take a lesson from one of his former charges.

Time at Real should make transition easier

Across his two full seasons as Real Madrid boss, Los Blancos may not have won the most points, but they (just) had the best underlying statistics.

The difference between the quality of chances they created and conceded was +88.0 expected goals across 2016/17 and 2017/18, just pipping Barcelona’s +87.8. This is a promising sign because it shows that Madrid were a good enough team to deserve the successes that came their way.

The way that his Madrid side used crossing as a mode of attack – as seen in their Football Whispers persona radar – might also play into a style of football that Manchester United fans are used to.

A lot has been made of the fact that United’s identity in their history has been a side who control the ball, but who also play with width and wingers.

Zidane may not have a ‘philosophy’ like many of the trendy managers at the moment (and, if he did, it would probably reduce the chance of being able to make a quick start at United) but his Madrid team played exciting, attacking football, the type that fans at Old Trafford would love to see their team play.

His lack of experience outside of the Bernabeu might be a risk, but it’s one that Manchester United should be willing to take.

* Odds subject to change

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