Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under intense scrutiny after his side’s 5-0 defeat to Liverpool. And, amid a sense that his reign is coming to an end, a name is being linked to the job – Antonio Conte.
The former Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan manager is understood to be keen on the job. Or, at least, keen enough to try to ‘understand the project’ at United.
This is a big thing that the Italian is interested in. Conte, who once described himself as a ‘serial winner’, is really just that. He deals only in silverware; Anything else just isn’t good enough.
In theory, this makes her the perfect candidate for the job. United need a strong arm, one who is tactically sound and knows how to win.
United’s transfer outlay has been massive in recent years, but the last trophy was won in 2017. That is, to put it mildly, the size of one club is not enough.
However, it is worth noting that Conte himself is not a silver bullet. He will be a quick improvement over the beleaguered Solskjaer, that much is certain. But that brings with it its advantages and disadvantages – both of which are important.
His appointment is a risk, but it can – and most likely will – bring rewards. Does it bring anything else or not? Well, this is the part that is up for debate.
Antonio Conte – serial winner
Before we consider the disadvantages of appointing Conte, it would be fair to look at the pros – and to understand why some United fans would welcome the move, if it were to happen.
He is someone who focuses almost entirely on winning trophies. In that sense, he is something of a modern Jose Mourinho. Trophies matter the most to Conte, and it’s easy to see that from a cursory glance at his resume.
After all, he is the man who started Juventus’ incredible run of nine consecutive Serie A titles in 2011-12. And he was the man to break that streak in 2020-21 – this time with Inter Milan.
Nothing says a serial winner more than starting a club’s winning streak and then breaking it himself – with their bitterest rivals, no less.
His time at Chelsea saw him win a Premier League title and an FA Cup in two seasons. At Inter, he won Serie A and came close to winning the Europa League as well.
Conte’s pedigree as a coach is also worth noting. Not only does he get the best out of the players, but his tactical acumen is also well documented.
In particular he also takes a keen interest in the off-field aspects of the game; His focus on controlling aspects of player diet, sports nutrition and even his personal life is well known.
Viewed from this prism, there is no reason why United should not go out of their way to rent the Italian. But – there is always a but – things are never that simple.
with the good comes the bad
Remember the comparison between Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho? Well, it’s not just limited to their winning mindset as managers.
Like ‘The Special One’, Conte is also one who demands investment in a team – and a lot. He left Inter Milan after winning Serie A mainly because the club was under financial constraints.
Similarly, his second season at Chelsea is best remembered for poor relations with the board over a lack of investment following their 2016–17 Premier League triumph.
Even at Juventus, they often clash with legacy when it comes to player transfers. This meant that, by the time he was ready to depart, very few were sad to see him go at the end.
Their obsession to win and win now leaves little room for young players to grow. At both Chelsea and Inter, he relied on young players only when absolutely necessary.
There is also the fact that Conte is an intense character, not only as a manager but also as a person. And he’s not afraid to make his grievances public. This can be good in some cases – but bad in others.
Mind you, the investment part won’t be an issue for Manchester United. They are quite solvent financially; Even Solskjaer has been given a lot to work with in his three seasons.
However, would they be okay with a manager who is willing to question them publicly – especially given how well Solskjaer has managed the relationship during his time there?
joint board resolution key
Bringing in Antonio Conte could work well for United – especially in the short term. However, the board will need to handle him carefully.
Conte, despite demanding a lot of transfers, is not always right. He famously inspired Chelsea to sign Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco, only to find the French midfielder barely playing.
It didn’t help that Bakayoko fouled the joint when he had his chance, but Conte showed little faith especially in a player who was still young and raw.
It is also true that signing Conte, like Mourinho, is done for short term gains. Is the board okay with prioritizing a few quick trophies over long-term gains?
It is worth remembering that he famously hired Mourinho for the same reason. Yet it took Solskjaer three whole seasons to clean up the mess he left behind – indeed, many still feel there is too much deadwood in the squad from those days.
It doesn’t help that United are often hesitant to sack managers. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Mourinho were kept long after their sell-on dates. The same is happening with Solskjaer at the moment.
If the situation worsens with Conte, will the officials in charge act swiftly? History doesn’t suggest they can. And this is something that must be taken into account when approaching Conte.
With that, when things are going well, they will float well. But when things take a downward turn it can only end in tears. As such, how well – or badly – he does it will depend on the people above him.
Conte’s managerial style requires a good structure around the club. Currently, United’s structure is anything but. In short, the Italians are a viable option only if they can bring about structural changes first.