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25 Oct, 2021 12:21

Antonio at the wheel? Italian boss Conte ‘open to considering Man Utd job’ as pressure rises on under-fire Solskjaer

Antonio at the wheel? Italian boss Conte ‘open to considering Man Utd job’ as pressure rises on under-fire Solskjaer

Antonio Conte is reportedly open to considering an approach from Man Utd should they cast aside Norwegian boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - but the decorated Italian manager is tipped to make wholesale changes should he take over.

Reports on Monday suggest that Solskjaer is facing the biggest crisis of his managerial career following Sunday's 5-0 shellacking courtesy of arch rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford.

One prominent bookmaker has even installed odds of 1/5 (the gambling equivalent of a near certainty) that he will be the next Premier League boss to be handed his marching papers after a miserable run or recent results was capped by the humiliation, capitulation even, at the hands of Mo Salah and company. 

Also on rt.com ‘Obliterated’: Liverpool hand Man Utd record drubbing as Salah hits three to add to Ronaldo and Solskjaer woes

But should the unpopular Manchester United ownership elect for change, who would be available to steady the ship? 

Perhaps the two most prominent candidates are ex-Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and former Chelsea and Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte – the latter of whom has reportedly expressed an interest in taking the reins at Old Trafford.

Conte has been out of work since severing ties with Italian champions Inter Milan shortly after the end of last season's Serie A campaign, and held (ultimately unsuccessful) talks with Tottenham Hotspur about taking over from Jose Mourinho this past summer. 

An accord, though, could not be reached and leaved Conte towards the summit of a very short list of top tier coaches – and per the Manchester Evening News, the Italian's name has been at the center of recent discussions in United's boardroom. 

The same source also reports that there is interest on Conte's side – but that any deal will only be reached if he is granted assurances that he would have full control of first-team affairs, up to and including severing ties with some of the club's top stars who may not fit into Conte's system.

What might this look like? Solskjaer has stuck to a 4-2-3-1 shape for the majority of his tenure in Manchester, but Conte's trademark system of three central defenders supported by wingbacks on the flanks would appear to jar with that identity. 

United's sometimes mercurial but often frustrating Paul Pogba enjoyed a great working relationship with Conte during their time at Juventus so his position would appear assured (should a new contract be agreed with the Frenchman). Conte rarely plays with a traditional 'number 10' meaning that Bruno Fernandes' position at the club would likely be under threat, as would that of the defensively-sound by progressively-stunted Aaron Wan-Bissaka – a player who doesn't fit the bill of Conte's marauding style of wingbacks. 

Raphael Varane, the big-money summer import from Real Madrid, has historically been uncomfortable playing in the three center back pairing that Conte has favored – while skipper and defensive partner Harry Maguire has appeared uncomfortable just playing football lately. 

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But beyond tactical and selection issues, a move for Conte would represent a sea change at Old Trafford and a terse admission that the Solskjaer gamble has been a dire failure. Chelsea realized the same (although much sooner) when they cast aside their own club legend in Frank Lampard earlier this year. A Champions League title authored by his replacement Thomas Tuchel followed months later.

Conte would surely wield similar change at Old Trafford. How that would manifest, and what it would mean for the likes of Maguire, Varane, Wan-Bissaka and even Cristiano Ronaldo would remain to be seen, but as CR7 wrote in his noirish summation of Sunday's dismal encounter with Liverpool, "This is on us and only us."

And one suspects that no one, not Solskjaer, not Ronaldo, is safe so long as the world's most famous football club continues to flounder in the shadows of its rivals. 

By John Balfe