Assessing The Doubts Over Conte Managing Manchester United
ARNAV KHANNA | 28th October 2021
When the full-time whistle blew on the 24th of October, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked like a ghost on the touchline. Pale, infirm, his features mirroring his job status – he was a dead man walking.
The 0-5 defeat to Liverpool saw even the most ardent advocates of Ole shaking their heads in acceptance of his limitations. The ship has been stabilized; given a new coat of paint even. Now, it needs a new captain.
That’s where Antonio Conte comes in.
The Italian’s name has been incessantly brandished about these past 72 hours.
Proven winner, mentality monster, playing a brand of adventurous football that never compromises on defensive solidity and most importantly, a man who is out of a job.
In theory he looks like a no-brainer. But the chasm between the paper and the pitch has swallowed many-a-manager, and this is an appointment that the Glazers cannot afford to miscalculate.
Doubt #1: Can Conte and the Glazers see eye to eye?
Talking about the Glazers, they themselves are our very first sticking point. Conte is not the most agreeable personality, to put it lightly.
The Serie A champion’s demands aren’t out of place. Back his blueprint with the bank it needs and your team is flying.
If in doubt, just ask Inter’s board or Chelsea’s Director, Marina Granovskaia. While the former saw Conte walk away from a title-winning Inter Milan, with the risk of his shiniest gems being sold to salvage the club from a financial crisis, the latter saw her team in tatters because the purchase of a certain Romelu Lukaku had not been sanctioned in 2018.
To sum things up, friction between Conte and callous owners like the Glazers is as safe a bet as any. They have a proven track record of rarely delivering the right player at the right time and Conte doesn’t entertain the very concept of “settling”.
After all, the PR spin around Jadon Sancho cannot change the inarguable fact that the Englishman should have signed on the dotted line a season prior. And as for a No.6, the wait continues as Manchester United have possibly the worst midfield pairing in the Top 6.
Every venture into the transfer market would have an air of implosion around it, which is far from the ideal scenario for either club or manager.
This isn’t to imply that the former Azzurri coach is at fault for coming off as combustible. Ultimately, his vision and his reputation are always on the line, with all eyes on him at all times.
The Glazers haven’t always paid heed to this, opting to back signings that offer a higher value commercially than on the pitch. And that’s where my doubt seems reasonable.
Doubt #2: Do the player profiles at United fit Conte’s vision?
Speaking of the transfer market, United spent around £124 million last summer but the current squad would still entail a fair few frowns from Antonio Conte.
Before we analyze the squad, we need to understand the ex-Juventus coach’s myriad of systems.
At Chelsea, a switch to a 3-4-3 with inside forwards saw him go on that juggernaut run to the title while at Inter, Conte utilized a 3-5-2 with a sitting defensive-midfielder and two dynamic midfielders to dethrone Juventus after a decade.
In both the formations, the wing-backs looked to bomb forward to provide width and combinations while the libero dictates play with his enviable passing range. David Luiz, at Chelsea was a fine example of that.
While this may just be an educated guess, these XI’s are a fair simulation of Conte’s potential drawing board. And both of them raise a few eyebrows.
Victor Moses at Chelsea, Antonio Candreva at Inter, Conte always utilizes converted wingers for his right-flank. At United, the most defensive full-back in the world in Aaron Wan-Bissaka leaves a lot to be desired in attack.
There goes your £50 million pound right-back onto the bench, awaiting replacement.
In similar fashion, United neither have an impenetrable pairing like Matic and Kante at Chelsea or an astute sitter in the ilk of Marcelo Brozovic at Inter.
Conte would have to either make do with a makeshift engine room of a limited Scott McTominay, an over-the-hill Nemanja Matic or Fred, who has simply been shambolic for a while now. Or once again, the Red Devils dip their hands into the market for not just one, but two midfielders to set the base in midfield.
While a 3-4-3 setup would see franchise man Bruno Fernandes ousted, a 3-5-2 formation would negate all the natural wingers at United. Marquee signing Jadon Sancho who already finds himself on the periphery of the action at United would be anonymous in a setup that calls for a front two.
A wide creator such as him would look as out of place in the Italian’s ideology. The £73 million fee going down the drain is one thing but the footballing investment going to waste on one of the standout creators in Europe is perhaps the biggest talking point.
And even if he does find a way in, he would be sidelining some other big name. Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial.
This United squad is hollow in the centre and heavy at the top, an imbalanced collective of big names and bigger egos.
My doubts remain but that’s also because only time will tell whether Conte becomes the next Manchester United and if he is given the keys, how he unlocks the potential within his side.
Doubt #3: Does Conte guarantee short-term results as a short-term appointment?
Times have changed. Pep, Klopp and now even Tuchel hold the Premier League in a chokehold. If you want to usurp this oligopoly, you need to be something special.
And while Conte is firmly seated in and amongst the upper echelon of coaches in Europe, even his unshakeable confidence would dare to verge on arrogance to suggest that winning the league is a guarantee while these names occupy his opposing dugouts.
One could be optimistic towards the Champions League and domestic cups, but Conte’s record in those competitions does not make for great reading to say the least.
Ultimately, the Italian boss is as short-term as they come, managing 7 clubs and the national side in the space of 15 years. That averages to staying at around 2 years per team.
If Conte does not deliver silverware in what is expected to be a short tenure, aren’t United back to square one again?
An outfit with superstars galore, gutted to the core as another rebuild awaits.
So, what is the point of Conte then?
That’s is the question.
OGS painstakingly cultivated a culture and assembled a squad in contention for the major honors, both which would be dismantled.
See, this is not a piece that intends to denigrate Conte. He is an amazing coach who wins wherever he goes, on the strength of a brilliant blueprint.
But this United job has chewed up and spat out enough big names for us to know that this is a mountain that cannot be climbed until you’re the chosen one. The fitting one.
Everything might just fall into place with this Italian stallion but United embarked on a fairytale with Ole and it has ended in literal tears.
The least we can do is be realistic here. Conte is another gamble.
The odds are good enough to roll the dice, but the price to pay can be huge as well. It goes south and you’re looking at United being exactly where they were before Ole arrived.
But with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having his bluff called out, there is no other option either. You roll the dice anyway. You either win big or you lose it all.