Should Manchester United hire a director of football? 11 candidates they could consider
Let's look at 11 of the good, bad and plain bizarre names linked with the director of football hotseat at Old Trafford
As much as Manchester United have missed Sir Alex Ferguson - and boy, do they miss him - there’s an argument that United miss David Gill as much.
Fergie’s right-hand man, Gill left as Chief Executive in 2013 and United have lacked an edge in the transfer market since. With the Reds trying to make waves in a choppy transfer market, is it about time the club modernised and took the plunge with a new director of football? Here are 11 candidates who the club could look at.
The Hollywood choice. Known as the man who stole Kylian Mbappé from under Real Madrid's noses, Antero Henrique worked his way up the chain at Porto in the 1990s, working as a writer for the club, a press officer, and then the director of external relations. After Jose Mourinho left Portugal for England, he stepped up to the sports director position and before joining PSG in 2017.
At PSG, he impressively shifted Javier Pastore, Jean-Kevin Augustin (now at Leeds), Yuri Berchiche, Jonathan Ikone and Odsonne Edouard for a combined €50 million - good work when FFP is on your back - whilst his admiration of N'Golo Kanté and Alex Sandro prove he has an eye for talent, even if the deals couldn't be pursued due to potential financial restrictions.
He does, however, present concerns. He's known as a ditherer in the market - predecessor Patrick Kluivert claims he "knows nothing about football" - and the failed handling of Frenkie De Jong's bid, Goncalo Guedes' reported move to Watford and Giovanni Lo Celso's loan have all been questionable. Leandro Paredes became the Plan B to De Jong (he's started five league games this season), PSG apparently lost €20m by selling Guedes to Valencia instead and many felt Lo Celso's exit came at a time of dire need for a central midfielder.
From the outside, PSG has a circus-like reputation to many, and Henrique apparently tried to surround himself with as many Portuguese speakers as possible in order to keep calm and get things done his way. Should he take control at Old Trafford, he should be able to exert more control - he could well bring more backroom staff members to assist him and is less likely to have interference from as many execs.
Edwin van der Sar
A genuine United legend, Edwin Van der Sar saved the winning penalty for the club in the 2008 Champions League shootout and lifted four league titles in his stint at Old Trafford. One of the most respected goalkeepers of all time, the 6’5 Dutchman is currently back in Amsterdam with his boyhood club, Ajax, as their CEO.
Van der Sar has overseen Ajax’s new golden generation that has produced the likes of Frenkie de Jong and United target Donny Van de Beek. Van der Sar himself puts this down to the club’s unique strength of identity and commitment to blooding young players, and this is something that Reds fans would love to see reflected in Manchester.
Though Van der Sar has recently signed a new deal with Ajax, the prospect of revitalising United would surely interest this outstanding candidate for the job. It helps too that he’s worked as a marketing director before, something that’s been a focus of United recruitment in recent years.
Paul Mitchell was a midfielder who played for Wigan and MK Dons, went on loan five times in his career and never scored a goal. Post-retirement however, his career has been fascinating.
Mitchell first became the Dons’ head of recruitment before Southampton poached him. He followed Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham and has been instrumental in signing the likes of Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Nathaniel Clyne and Toby Alderweireld in his time in the Premier League.
After his relationship with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy turned sour though, Mitchell upped sticks to move to RB Leipzig, overseeing their transfer policy. He’s been heavily linked with United and his nose for uncovering young talents would certainly be welcome at the club.
Footballing icon, upturned collar pioneer, seasoned actor, part-time kung-fu enthusiast, French national beach soccer team captain and French presidential election hopeful - surely Eric Cantona could add director of football to his extraordinary Wikipedia page?
He has no experience in the field, has declared he’d never work for the Glazers and is probably too busy with Kronenburg adverts, but such obstacles are surely trivial for an enigma like King Eric. He’s been linked with the role in the past, and if his work in other fields is anything to go by, he’d surely reinvigorate Old Trafford with a behind-the-scenes presence that demands results, fire and not being taken for fools anymore.
His long-standing relationship with Nike may also prove an issue for an Adidas-sponsored team. Just another issue to add to the pile.
His father revolutionised two of the biggest football clubs in Europe, on and off the field, and became a cultural symbol of his nation. While Jordi has a lot to live up to in the Cruyff family, he’s carved a successful career in the game for himself, too.
A former United midfielder, Cruyff is a jack of all trades in backroom terms. He’s currently the Ecuador manager but has experience working as a Sporting Director at AEK Larnaca and Maccabi Tel Aviv, the latter of which dominated Israeli football under his oversight. He knows Old Trafford well and his experience across Europe would be appealing to United - there’s an expectation of style that comes with the Cruyff name too, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure managing Manchester United has been a mixed one, but there are clear positives. The Norwegian has galvanised the club to follow a clear identity, overseen huge improvements from certain individuals on the training pitch and inspired a spirit that has lifted the side out of the directionless mire they were in with Jose Mourinho.
He’s not exactly been backed in the market, though. If United were looking to keep Ole at the club but pass the coaching onto another man, the director of football role could suit him. He certainly knows what the club requires in terms of playing profiles and passion, he’s easy to work with for the board and by bringing in a more experienced brain to manage the side while he does the off-field sourcing - he’s still a young coach, remember - United could have the best of both worlds.
He’s a name that’s linked with the job anyway - whether he’d miss coaching too much to give it up or not.
Michael Zorc joined Dortmund aged 15 in 1978 and has been there ever since - first as their longest-serving captain ever, and then as sporting director, appointed in 1998 when he hung up his boots.
Zorc’s Dortmund spent hard in the early 2000s in search of success but financial issues caught up with Der BVB - Bayern had to bail them out at one point. Zorc realigned strategy and in recent years, has overseen the acquisition of players such as Jadon Sancho, Ousmane Dembele, Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski. There are parallels with United there - big transfers before a more cohesive strategy - so maybe Zorc is the man to lend experience in how they should proceed.
The German is reportedly leaving Dortmund next year. Could Manchester United make him an offer he couldn’t refuse?
Staying in Germany, former coach and current Red Bull head of sport and development Ralf Rangnick is a name that’s been talked about in relation to both Arsenal and Manchester United in recent years, thanks to his work unearthing young players, coaching clear playing styles and understanding the business side of the game.
The advantages of hiring Rangnick are clear - he’s vastly experienced and well-connected, and if the Red Bull project has anything to go by, he’d modernise Man United’s backroom set-up. He’s had the experience of management too, which might not go a miss if United ever needed an interim manager again.
Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, or Monchi to the rest of us, has given careers to Sergio Ramos, Dani Alves and Ivan Rakitic. After making his name at Sevilla and assisting Unai Emery to deliver three Europa League titles, he moved to Roma briefly - he flirted with interest from Arsenal last summer, but he’s back at Sevilla again, now.
Monchi buys in volume. His strategy is to hedge his bets with signings rather than specifically hone in on talents, retaining the hits and offloading the misses. It’s a plan that didn’t quite work at a club of Roma’s size, so could it work with United? He’s been linked with the job and surely such a well-connected and prolific recruitment guru could form a good bond with a club who already have a fantastic academy and a strong scouting network.
One of the most popular Manchester United legends ever, not to mention a standout personality in sports broadcasting, it’s pretty clear to some that Gary Neville could never turn down the club he lived and breathed his entire life. Whilst Neville himself puts down his ill-fated management stint in Valencia to not being dedicated enough to coaching though, being United’s director of football would be a whole different ball game.
Neville very clearly has United’s best interests at heart more than most and would be trusted to only deliver those to the club with the same commitment. He’s proven on Sky to be an advocate of progressive philosophy and would be a leader behind the scenes. His lack of experience is, of course, the sticking point.
Our third and final Dutchman of the list, Marcel Bout is already part of the United set-up as Head of Global Scouting. Having worked for the Netherlands national side, Feyenoord and Bayern Munich, Bout joined as part of Louis van Gaal’s red army in 2014, but stuck around despite the eccentric coach departing in 2016.
Bout has been a technical analyst, a scout, a match analyst a head coach and an assistant manager. He knows the game, knows Man United and though it’s difficult to tell who’s done what from outside the Old Trafford walls, he’s most probably had a say in a lot of the transfers conducted post-David Moyes. If the United board are looking to promote within, he’s the obvious answer.
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.
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