Manchester United need a Di Matteo

Posted by Mark Payne

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Molde coachingGettyImagesOle Gunnar Solskjaer: A former Manchester United player and coach now making a name for himself as a manager with title-winning Molde.

What have Sven-Goran Eriksson, Bryan Robson and Martin O'Neill got in common? They have all been linked with the Manchester United manager's job at various times. In general, rumours about who is to be Sir Alex Ferguson's successor all meet the same problem: Fergie is still in the job. However, recent reports about an approach to Pep Guardiola contain a key difference. It is rumoured that the Scotsman made first contact himself.

News first emerged in the Spanish press of a meeting between Sir Alex and Pep during the US Open in September. That week ended with Sir Alex and Sean Connery crashing a news conference a few whiskies into their day. Talk of Manchester United stewardship drifted into the background.

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ESPN reports this week alleged that meeting also contained United chief executive David Gill and a Glazer. Naturally, rumours are hotting up about Guardiola joining United at some point, but it is United's opponents this weekend who provide an alternative approach to the subject of succession.

Manchester United need a Roberto Di Matteo. He has been promoted from within, he knows the club and he has not been hamstrung by expectation from the start. For all of their vaunted pedigrees, Phil Scolari, AVB and Avram Grant were all doomed to fail precisely because they were so heavily pressured to succeed. It would have been impossible for any of them to meet the expectations in London. Can you imagine the pressure on whoever takes over from Fergie?

Di Matteo on the other hand was not expected to do much. In the eight months he has been at the helm, he has won the European Cup, shipped out some overpaid superstars, transformed Chelsea into an exciting team and given them their best ever start to a season. Not bad for a stopgap. It is also worth mentioning that this Chelsea produce the club's best football in living memory.

In many ways, the Chelsea experiment has proved that searching for a big-name manager is not necessarily the path to continued success. While United continue to sound out the likes of Jose Mourinho and Guardiola, they would do well to keep this in mind. Directors at Old Trafford are also likely to be aware of the success Liverpool enjoyed whilst promoting from within during the 1970s and 80s. In many ways, Roberto Di Matteo is Chelsea's Joe Fagan, a man thrust thanklessly into the role without much fanfare.

If Chelsea's barnstorming start to the season continues this weekend then Di Matteo will start to be seen as a more long-term custodian of the London club. In his way stand the best attacking lineup in Europe and the most porous defence of Ferguson's tenure. Nobody is expecting a nil-nil draw.

The odds slightly favour Chelsea but exploits midweek are likely to have a psychological effect on both sets of players. Whereas United secured the victory that all but guaranteed their progress in Europe, Chelsea stuttered, as they have done against strong opposition earlier in the campaign. Neither side has been significantly tested until now. But United enter this fixture with greater buoyancy.

Both sides will be missing their club captains. Nemanja Vidic remains worryingly sidelined with a knee injury and John Terry continues to sit out league matches due to his high-profile ban. Terry remains talismanic for Chelsea and his colleagues often up their game when he is on the field. United, on the other hand, managed to amass 89 points last season without Vidic and are almost used to playing without him now.

With Chelsea leading the league table and United hot on their heels this match promises to be a marker for the season's title campaign. Certainly too early for a result to have a decisive bearing on the destination of the championship, but the right time to send a message to the opposition. The men in the dugouts on Sunday are at the opposite ends of their managerial careers, but both have the same thing in mind: victory at all costs.

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