Ed Woodward and Richard Arnold were not at Vicarage Road on Saturday, nor were they in Castellon on Tuesday night.
Arnold has been very visible ever since Woodward tendered his resignation as the Manchester United executive vice-chairman in April, attending almost every game and becoming more involved in the fans’ advisory board plans. United have another plan now – to identify a manager, or managers.
It is inconceivable United would have added the word ‘interim’ to the statement confirming Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure if they were aware of Mauricio Pochettino’s true feelings. Pochettino wants to be in the Old Trafford dugout next week, not next year.
United have approached Paris Saint-Germain and are unlikely to be discouraged by the rejection. The onus now is on Pochettino to inform his present employers he wishes to have his employment terminated.
For appearances sake, United have to stay mum. The slightest suggestion they are deviating from their questionable plan outlined on Sunday is another stick to beat Woodward and Arnold with and their egos are already black and blue.
In Pochettino’s diplomatic Zoom call in Manchester on Tuesday, there were coded hints. Every question was answered in English and he mentioned Sir Alex Ferguson’s name unprompted. The flames were not doused.
Zinedine Zidane’s Marseille roots are not necessarily irrelevant to the Parisians from the banlieues who congregate by the église adjacent to the Parc des Princes, but the Champions League has become the Holy Grail for PSG and the available Zidane has three winner’s medals stuffed in his drawer. Zidane’s face graced the Arc de Triomphe following France’s home World Cup triumph in 1998.
Why would PSG tolerate a potentially toxic scenario when they could pocket €12million from United for Pochettino and strengthen their challenge for the Champions League? They changed coaches last December.
PSG are bound to play hardball and posturing is inevitable yet it already feels a matter of when Pochettino becomes the United manager.
Uncertainty over the timeframe means United are speaking to other managers considered for the interim role. One flew into Manchester to be interviewed on Tuesday. Ernesto Valverde and Rudi Garcia have been spoken to and Ralf Rangnick is believed to be the preferred candidate.
A German source said ‘Rangnick wants to decide EVERYTHING’ – the last word written in block capitals. Rangnick has a profile more permanent than interim and has transitioned to a more administrative role in the last decade. He was sporting director for the Red Bull group and is currently the head of sports and development at Lokomotiv Moscow.
He also managed Schalke in a Champions League semi-final at Old Trafford. Rangnick has the clout to make any temporary stay permanent and would possibly tread on the toes of the football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher. Rangnick was linked with Murtough’s role prior to his appointment in March.
United sources have stressed the presence of Murtough and Fletcher is vital as the club goes through this period of transition. If they had to go down the interim route, then Rangnick would not be a compliant choice.
Rangnick’s availability is subject to terms and Lokomotiv’s demands, so United have to sound out alternatives. United tend to have a shortlist, or discuss a position, with multiple options simultaneously before signing one of them. Or none of them.
There is little expectation of a managerial appointment before the Chelsea match on Sunday and United are under mounting pressure to have a new face in the technical area before Arsenal’s visit next Thursday.
They then have a game every three days before the four-day gap between Brentford on December 14 and Brighton on the 18th. Then there is an incongruous nine-day wait until Newcastle away on the 27th.
United have to follow through with Pochettino this time. The names they have approached as interim manager risk writing off a season with 26 Premier League matches left to play, a Champions League knockout tie and an FA Cup campaign.
Fail to appoint Pochettino mid-season and another trophyless season would be on Arnold and Woodward more than Solskjaer.