Ben Gray: Now more than ever before, it’s vitally important that Manchester United and Chelsea get their managerial appointments right

The theme of this summer, albeit at this very early stage, is the managerial merry-go-round.

In the Premier League, Chelsea, Liverpool, potentially Manchester United, Brighton, West Ham United and Leicester City (not by choice), have already changed head coaches or are still in the market to do so.

Likewise, across Europe, some of the biggest clubs are also partaking in this craze, with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan, Napoli, Olympique Marseille, Sevilla, Ajax, Feyenoord and Porto all either forced into a change, or doing so voluntarily.

Liverpool hired Arne Slot, West Ham appointed Julen Lopetegui, Barça have gone for Hansi Flick, Juve poached Thiago Motta from Bologna and Bayern have landed on Vincent Kompany, to the surprise of many, but for those still searching, there is a real dearth of available, top-level managers.

We’re going to be focussing primarily on Manchester United and Chelsea, as it’s so important, now more so than potentially ever before, that these two gigantic clubs make the right decision.

Manchester United

First and foremost, the caveat straight away is that Manchester United might not be changing managers this summer, but this in of itself is a decision that have to get right.

On Friday night, Jacob Steinberg in the Guardian reported that the club had already decided to sack Erik ten Hag following the FA Cup Final, regardless of outcome, following the club’s lowest league finish, 8th, for 34 years.

Well, this unequivocal decision has certainly been made significantly tougher by the Red Devils’ shock 2-1 victory over Manchester City at Wembley, with quick-fire goals from teenagers Alejandro Garnacho and then Kobbie Mainoo securing, possibly, the club’s greatest triumph of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

This was, by some distance, Man United’s best performance of the season, a victory that salvaged a spot in the Europa League, and also emphasised what is possible when, as ten Hag is eager to points out, when his best players are available.

So what do Manchester United do now?

This summer, for the first time, having bought a 25% stake in the club, Sir Jim Ratcliffe is the primary decision maker and all historical evidence suggests that a change of ownership almost always leads to a change in manager, as the new people in charge want to hire their own person.

To date, ten Hag has won 66 of his 114 matches in charge of Man United, and it’s rather symbolic that his first victory came against Liverpool while, potentially, his last came over Manchester City.

This season alone, the Red Devils have been beaten by Brighton, Crystal Palace twice, Bournemouth, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Fulham, København and Galatasaray so, while they are capable of pulling off a big victory, the consistency just isn’t there.

Eighth is the lowest Manchester United have finished since 1990, conceding 58 times in a league campaign, their most since 1979, while their chaotic Champions League campaign, shipping 15 goals in six outings, saw them finish rock bottom of a UEFA group stage for just the second time.

All of this suggests the hierarchy would be totally justified to make a change, but that does not align with the zeitgeist; the majority of hard-core, match-going supporters want ten Hag to stay while, despite rumours of discontent, the players were clearly playing for him at the weekend, executing a game-plan to perfection.

After Kieran McKenna signed a new long-term contract at Ipswich Town, the current front-runners for the job are Mauricio Pochettino, Roberto De Zerbi and Thomas Tuchel.

Would any of those three, or anyone else for that matter, do a better job? It’s very hard to say.

It’s already set to be a summer of change, with Raphaël Varane departing on a Bosman, the futures of Mason Greenwood, Casemiro, Jadon Sancho and Donny van de Beek need to be resolved, while there’s continuous speculation surrounding key figures Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford.

Whether or not keeping ten Hag is the right decision, everyone has their own opinion, I personally think they should make a change, but only if a more qualified candidate is available, it’s pivotal that the Ratcliffe era gets off to a positive start.


We already know that Chelsea will have a new man in the dugout come August, having announced Mauricio Pochettino’s departure ‘by mutual consent’ just two days after their final game of the season.

Most ‘mutual consents’ aren’t very mutual, but this appeared to buck that trend, with Pochettino seemingly quite relived to depart, while the higher-up decision makers believed a change was necessary.

On the face of it, this was a bizarre decision, considering the Blues had concluded the campaign with five successive victories, losing only one of their last 15 in the Premier League, this against Arsenal, finishing sixth and getting back into Europe.

But Pochettino had been dropping not so subtle hints that he wasn’t particularly happy in his post for a while, annoyed at the constant attempts to sell Conor Gallagher, the club needing to balance the books, while the decision to hire set-piece coach Bernardo Cueva without his knowledge didn’t go down well.

The management meantime criticised Pochettino’s training methods as “antiquated” and declared interest in “a young, progressive coach willing to buy into their way of working”, while also briefing that they were dissatisfied with the sixth-placed finish, given that Champions League qualification was their stated objective.

Numerous players have taken to social media to express their sadness about this decision:

Nicolas Jackson wrote on his Instagram “Love you coach. Wish we could stay together more” while Moisés Caicedo took to the same platform to say “Mister! It was a pleasure. I wish you all the best for the future!”

The Friday prior to Chelsea’s final game of the season, Chairman Todd Boehly had taken Pochettino out for dinner, publicly supporting the Argentine at the recent Qatar Economic Forum.

Well, this may be symbolic of Boehly’s dwindling power and influence, with fellow Clearlake Capital founders Behdad Eghbali and José E. Feliciano, as well as co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley at the forefront of this decision.

It appears as though Enzo Maresca is who’ve they desired to hire, becoming the club’s 16th different manager (minimum 2 games in charge) since 2000, meaning Chelsea have had more head coaches this century than there have been Dalai Lamas since the first in 1391, and as many Popes as there have been since 1799.

Maresca began his managerial career at Parma, swiftly sacked having won only four of his 14 games in charge, before returning to Manchester City as an assistant, having previously been in charge of the Elite Development Squad.

Last summer, Leicester City took the plunge on the rookie coach and it paid off, with the Foxes promoted as EFL Championship champions, ending the campaign with a more than impressive tally of 97 points.

Nevertheless, this is still a huge step-up, with Chelsea’s board saying they want a ‘young and up-and-coming manager’ to grow with their young squad, while also demanding instantaneous success, so which one is it?

What appears to be more the case is that those running the club want a head coach they can control, not appreciative of Pochettino outspokenness, hiring someone who will just be grateful to be in the job and will do as their told; whether Maresca proves to be that we’ll have to wait and see.

This will be the start of a very busy period for Chelsea because, between August 2024 and Mat 2026, the Blues will be in competitive action each and every month for 22 consecutive months.

As 2021 Champions League winners, they have qualified for next summer’s revamped and expanded FIFA Club World Cup, now a 32-team competition taking place stateside in June and July 2025.

Alongside the Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup and UEFA Conference League, Chelsea could play as many as 74 competitive games between 17 August this year and 13 July next, that’s a match every 4.5 days.

There will then be about a 4 week gap between the Mundial de Clubes Final and the start of 2025/26 Premier League season, hence why the club are briefing this as the start of a ‘double-season’, meaning if Maresca is not the right man, the ramifications could be substantial and long-lasting.

Importance of getting it right

Looking more holistically and hypothetically, the next 12 months or so present a great opportunity for both Manchester United and Chelsea to get at least close to rediscovering their former glories.

Jürgen Klopp has already waved farewell to Liverpool, while it’s widely acknowledged that next season is likely to be Pep Guardiola’s last at Manchester City, something he personally has intimated.

Elsewhere, Mikel Arteta is yet to deliver glory at Arsenal, even if they’ve come agonisingly close in consecutive campaigns, while it’s somewhat in the balance whether or not Ange Postecoglou will be a success as Spurs.

So, as Guardiola and Klopp depart in particular, there could be increased opportunity for Chelsea and Man United to not only challenge for major silverware, but to end their respective waits for titles.

Despite missing out on the bonus Champions League spot this time round, changes to competition formats and the UEFA Coefficient Ranking system make it more likely that fifth will secure Champions League qualification next time round, which has to be a realistic aim for both the Blues and Red Devils.

These two clubs are, to varying degrees, in a state of flux, and the respective decisions they make or have already made with regards their managers could be the catalyst for success, or signal the continuation of mediocrity.

Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".