If Sky Sports are registering their successes over social media interactions then they will have been delighted with the latest post-match inquest into Manchester United at the Etihad on Sunday.
The days of calm and rational analysis appear to be over. Instead, Sky treated viewers to a studio of middle-aged blokes trying to shout louder than each other to make their points heard.
The post-match debrief over United’s latest derby disaster was so chaotic and uncontrolled it made Prime Minister’s Questions look like a well-run forum of sensible debate.
It would be interesting to know how many viewers managed to stick with the discussion rather than become exasperated at the sight of people just shouting at each other.
The social media interactions over digestible clips might be through the roof, but this was hardly a roaring success for the format of punditry in 2022.
Gary Neville was attempting to be the voice of reason but was often met with a hysterical Micah Richards. The former City defender enjoyed a bright start as a pundit but now seems to have descended into the equivalent of a fan sitting and screaming at the TV.
Perhaps the most interesting segment of their ‘debate’ was over United’s managerial decisions, with Richards wondering forcefully why they didn’t appoint Antonio Conte when he was available in October. He’s a winner, was the sum of the argument, overlooking a fairly mediocre record at Tottenham that suggests that isn’t always the case.
“Conte’s not a manager for United,” Neville responded. “He comes in for one or two years, he does a great job but we’ve been there with Jose Mourinho, they want to appoint either Mauricio Pochettino or [Erik] Ten-Hag on a long-term project and they needed someone to get them to the end of the season.”
There is certainly a debate to be had over whether Ralf Rangnick was the best candidate on an interim boss. After all, he has spent just two of the last 10 seasons in coaching, but there is little merit in castigating United over not appointing Conte.
Going from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to Conte would have been swapping one extreme from the other, the kind of tactic that usually smacks of a club without a plan, reactive rather than proactive. The experiment of appointing a proven winner failed with Mourinho and it’s not going to be repeated with someone who is so similar in terms of the style of aggravation he can cause the club and the players.
Anybody – such as Richards – still wondering why he wasn’t appointed at United only needs to see his record at Tottenham and more importantly the emotional volatility he has bought to that role. This was the best group of players he’d ever worked with after winning at City and then a group of players who had let their last three managers down when they lost to Burnley four days later.
That kind of extreme emotion is not what United need right now. Conte has been successful, but he’s done so with an almost blank chequebook and Juventus and Inter Milan have actually improved for his departure, with the argument that players have become worn down by the intensity of his methods, in private and in public, and relished a change of boss. That is hardly a recipe for success for this current United squad, who are clearly in a fragile place after a disastrous season.
United have got all of their permanent appointments since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement wrong and it’s probable Conte would have gone the same way. They have to appoint a long-term manager now, someone they have faith in to last five or six years and bring a modern, progressive style to the club.
That is clearly not Conte. There is an element of risk to Pochettino and Ten Hag, but both fit the bill for United more than a character such as Conte does.
There’s little point United appointing a short-term winner, given the chances of them usurping City or Liverpool next season are almost non-existent. The best chance of success is the seasons to follow when Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are expected to leave their posts.
That gives a long-term, project manager such as Pochettino or Ten Hag time to get things right before United might finally expect to be serious title challengers once again.