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Are Manchester United and Antonio Conte a Good Fit?

© Sputnik / Grigory Sysoev / Go to the photo bankAntonio Conte
Antonio Conte - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.10.2021
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Manchester United’s board is reportedly split over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future and it’s largely down to their split opinion of Antonio Conte. There is little argument that Conte is one of the best managers in the world, but being the manager of Manchester United is not just about results.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer largely landed the United job because of the board’s desire to reset the culture of the club. Solskjaer succeeded Jose Mourinho, who had created a toxic environment, from the locker room to the board room. While United’s performances under Solskjaer weren’t much better than they had been under Mourinho, the former was able to fully expunge the animus from the club.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the 6-1 defeat to Spurs - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.10.2021
Manchester United Hierarchy Reportedly Split on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Future
Antonio Conte’s record as a manager is about as sterling as they come. When he said he was a “serial winner,” he wasn’t boasting. Since taking over Juventus in 2012-13, he has won 65.4% of his games at club level and five domestic league titles in seven seasons. Conte’s personality is highly combustible, however, and he has on numerous occasions called out his team’s board.
While in charge of Juventus he told a reporter, "Well, you cannot go to eat at a €100 restaurant with just €10 in your pocket, can you?" In reference to a perceived lack of funds allocated to his squad.
While no one wants a hire who will throw them under the bus, United has the cash to keep him happy. Personality concerns are likely the reason that Conte has not already been named the Manchester United manager, but his tactics and the current squad may also have played a role.
Throughout his career, Conte has favored a fluid 3-5-2 formation. The formation uses three center backs, two wide midfielders - who shift from wingers to wing backs - an industrious midfield three, and two strikers. As currently constructed, United may be a few men short in certain positions and far too deep in others.
September 14, 2021 Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before the match - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.09.2021
Manchester United’s Glut of Attackers Giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ‘Headaches’
United currently lacks a true right wingback, is a center-back short, and has far more wingers than necessary. Cramming United’s current squad into a 3-5-2 could be just as disastrous as watching Solskjaer try to make a Scott McTominay and Fred double-pivot work.
Conte’s reputation as being tactically inflexible is somewhat overblown. He opted for two central midfielders and lone strikers when the squad required it. He has even toyed with four back sets, but the beauty of three center back sets is they’re better at covering up for a defender’s glaring weakness. The biggest concern with bringing Conte to United is how Cristiano Ronaldo will fare.
Conte demands incredible intensity and pressing from his attacking players. Ronaldo, 36, simply cannot be relied on to press for 90 minutes. Teams that press successfully have no weak links in their chain. There is a possibility that Conte would favor Edison Cavani at striker over Ronaldo.
But these concerns are tertiary. Conte built a powerhouse Juventus team and used Andrea Pirlo as a deep-lying playmaker. Pirlo, as great as he was, was not a tireless runner. In fact, most of the concerns about Conte’s fit at United are more stereotypes than reality.
What makes a manager elite isn’t that they have tactics that no one else has. It’s their ability to get players to buy into those tactics and execute. Wherever Conte has gone, he has elevated his squad. He turned Victor Moses into an excellent wingback at Chelsea, he got the best out of Paul Pogba at Juventus, and he revitalized Romelu Lukaku at Inter.
If Manchester United can stomach Conte’s personality and penchant for speaking his mind, they’ll be able to reap his managerial genius. After all, United is United because they were “serial winners,” which is the most important thing they share with Conte.
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