Manchester United v Arsenal - Premier League

Irreplaceable: Mauricio Pochettino is the wrong man to take on Sir Alex's legacy

Mauricio Pochettino isn't the man to tackle Sir Alex Ferguson's legacy

A pragmatism about Manchester United fans followed the 3-2 defeat to West Ham. If they are not going to finish in the top four, then at least they may be a step closer to getting their club back.

A fifth-place finish could well bring the end of Louis van Gaal's bizarre spell at Old Trafford, which has offered some amusing soundbites for rival fans, but little to smile about for the United faithful.

"Only in sex masochism it is allowed" was LVG's assessment of Robert Huth's hair-pull on Marouane Fellaini, but in fact, it could have been a response to ongoing questions about his reign, which has at times been painful.


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It could all be coming to an anti-climactic end, with the West Ham defeat coming just hours after Sir Alex Ferguson was pictured lunching with Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.

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Both clubs quickly moved to dispel the inevitable rumours that sent Spurs fans into panic mode, as it looked as if their worst fears were about to be confirmed.

Ferguson is one of football's big characters. Accordingly, it was only to be expected that his departure would cause an identity crisis at United. It is not as simple a question as who is their manager, but how they play their football, and how they measure their achievements, must all be scrutinised.

However, the reality is that Pochettino is not the man to address those concerns. Not only would it be the wrong move for the 44-year-old, it would also be an error on Manchester United's part.


Sir Alex has proved irreplaceable. Two managers have tried, and it looks like two have failed, to emulate a smidgeon of his success. And for all his achievements at Tottenham, it is far from certain that Pochettino is the man to finally live up to the Premier League's most enviable legacy.

As David Moyes, Mark Hughes, and even Claudio Ranieri have found, it is one thing to be able to develop players, and improve a squad with far less expectation surrounding it than there is at United; but it is quite another to dive head first into a collective of big name players, many of whom will have been expecting Jose Mourinho.

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Admittedly, Pochettino's style of football makes him a stronger candidate than the former Chelsea head coach. Kyle Walker tearing down the right, laying the ball at the feet of a tricky Erik Lamela who surges into the box and sets up another goal for Harry Kane - that is the kind of football United fans would love to see their team play, and as they have made clear to LVG on ample occasions, they will not tolerate parking the bus.

Pochettino is also less controversial than Mourinho, though the Red Devils arguably need a personality to rival Ferguson's in order to finally replace him. 

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will be keen to reiterate, no doubt, that he has verbally agreed a five-year contract with his manager. But as Mourinho is quickly finding out, no deal is ever sealed until pen is officially put to paper.

United cannot afford to make another mistake. After all, it is not just van Gaal's future that is on the line. The board must take a fair portion of the blame for what has happened in the last three years.

The ultimate act to follow 

Ferguson was the ultimate act to follow. His retirement was bound to bring a relatively baron spell to Old Trafford, but they have reached a new low.

Their next managerial choice is of such importance because they have nowhere else to go. They have spent more in the last two years than Leicester have in their entire history. Only when the Theatre of Dreams is rid of Fergie's shadow will United thrive again. His name, emblazoned on the north stand, physically looms over the pitch.

But what is it about Ferguson that has made him so difficult to replace?

Perhaps his apparently innocuous meeting with Pochettino is telling. His continuing influence at the club has often led to rumours of him making a shock return to the dugout.

It was the same with Matt Busby. Frank O'Farrell, who had the unhappy task of replacing him, strolled into the manager's office after taking over only to find Busby sitting at his desk.

Moyes may have found comfort in that story. He believes he was never given time to succeed at what was probably the hardest job in football. That may be true, but the feeling at the time was that his sacking was best for all parties. The responsibility was too much.

LVG pays the price for stubbornness 

The answer seemed to be to turn to a man of vast experience, a football veteran who had won silverware with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Ajax. Despite all that, LVG has still been found wanting when it comes to the demands of English football, particularly in his relations with the media.

He has been unfortunate to lose key players, most notably Luke Shaw, who has not played since breaking his leg in September, but his biggest setbacks have been of his own doing. Put simply, Van Gaal has not been a success because he has refused to learn the ways of Manchester United.

West Ham United v Manchester United - Premier League

The Dutchman has insisted upon a pedestrian style of play, while insisting a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool didn't matter because they're "not the enemy." Ferguson's view? "My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f***ing perch."

Pochettino has shown he is willing to adapt to very different situations at Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham, but the question remains why he would want to leave Spurs.

He is the first manager since Martin Jol to have had any substantial long-term plans at White Hart Lane, and with Spurs' new stadium imminent, they are almost ready to make the step up to the next level. Were he to move, he would sacrifice everything for which he has worked so hard.

He has had to fight for autonomy in Spurs' transfer dealings - something Levy does not relinquish easily - and risks walking into absolute chaos at United.

United missing Gill

Chief Executive David Gill was almost as big a loss as Ferguson, and he has been replaced by novice Ed Woodward. For all the funds at their disposal, signings like Memphis Depay, Marouane Fellaini and Morgan Schneiderlin have all performed at nowhere near the level expected.

Meanwhile, Javier Hernandez, Shinji Kagawa, and Danny Welbeck have all been ousted from the club, only for United to rue their form elsewhere. To top it all off, Woodward scouted Renato Sanches 40 times before the midfielder went and signed for Bayern Munich.

The club as a whole is lacking discipline. Many supporters were right to question whether Jesse Lingard would have filmed the team bus being attacked by West Ham fans had Ferguson been on board, and that was just one variation of the theme of turmoil that has reigned since 2013. 

The Scot's ability to play the father-figure and the authoritarian all at the same time is very hard to replicate, and Pochettino still has a lot to learn about disciplining his players if the 'Battle of Stamford Bridge' is anything to go by.

United can still win the FA Cup this season, and in fact, they should, facing a Crystal Palace side who have been in disarray since Christmas in the final. But that will surely be papering over some deep, deep cracks. Pochettino might not be the man to fix it, but United need to find the right candidate very soon or risk another step towards their downward spiral. 

Is Pochettino the right man for Manchester United? Have your say in the comments. 

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