Antonio Conte will win trophies for Manchester United and can remove ‘DNA’ from regular footballing parlance. It makes perfect sense.
“They won’t bring a hitman in again. A hitman who comes in and does a job for two years. Antonio Conte’s available but I wouldn’t bring him to Manchester United. I wouldn’t bring him here now, I wouldn’t. I don’t think Conte is a fit for Manchester United. I don’t think he’s a fit. We’ve seen a coach with a specific style like Louis van Gaal didn’t work here.”
Gary Neville put his increasingly fragile credibility under even more strain by suggesting that a manager with a distinct “style” that’s as good a guarantee of major silverware as any in world football isn’t a good “fit” for Manchester United.
His point, though he’s reticent to say so explicitly as it’s now a buzzword used as a stick to beat United stakeholders, is that Conte doesn’t have United ‘DNA’. Well, if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s got it and Conte doesn’t, then, quite frankly, f*** the DNA.
Neville has previously spoken about United being left behind in terms of the structure of the club – the need for a director of football, clarity over transfers and proper channels from the boardroom to the manager. Much of that has been addressed. Yet they continue to be held back by the intangible notion they hold dearer than all else and can’t let go: the desire for it to be exactly like the old days, which we have to thank for the last three decades of genetic circlejerking. Because although the DNA was transcribed by Matt Busby and his Babes, it was the Sir Alex Ferguson era that hammered it home as The Way – the only way, apparently.
What is it, anyway? Rio Ferdinand described United DNA as “hunger” and “bravery”, but that in no way sets them apart from Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, Manchester City under Pep Guardiola or Chelsea under multiple managers, with Conte perhaps the hungriest of them all.
And surely the best way of developing hunger for success is to have a taste of it. Despite the half a billion pounds spent under Solskjaer, the squad have relatively few major titles between them and even fewer as Manchester United players. David De Gea and Phil Jones are the only remaining members of the squad to have won the Premier League at Old Trafford.
Is that not the major part of the United DNA – winning trophies? The shibboleth has been forged from times when yes, there was a distinctive ‘way’, but the Busby style was different to that of Ferguson, with the thread running through the periods their domestic and European glory. Conte is deemed by many as too defensive compared to Ferguson, but then those ‘Class of ’92’ days seem to be heralded as more and more free-flowing and exciting the further we are removed from them; it wasn’t as scintillating as it’s now made out to be. Only two of Ferguson’s 13 title-winning sides outscored the Conte’s Chelsea team of 2016/17. Ferguson was, above all else, a winner, just like Conte.
But they don’t want a “hitman” – they crave longevity. Doesn’t everyone? Do United think Chelsea enjoy shelling out huge amounts of money to pay off the managers they hire then fire? They do it because they see it as their best bet to win trophies. And they do, constantly. That, too is longevity, not of style, but of success. If Thomas Tuchel continues to win big trophies, he won’t be sacked. If he doesn’t, he will. It’s brutal but clear and simple, with Chelsea’s latest call their toughest but best. They got rid of their own club legend, brought in a manager with a proven track record and soon won the biggest prize in club football.
United don’t want a situation like Chelsea’s, not least because the owners don’t want to be paying off managers when they could be building United theme parks in Asia, but there’s got to be a balance between job security and jeopardy. It may not be beneficial for a manager to feel as though his future is under threat, but it’s arguably worse for said manager to feel too comfortable.
Conte is never comfortable. The itchiness of his feet is renowned. Which does mean he’s unlikely to build a great legacy as the manager of Manchester United, but he’s a prime candidate to usher one in. Offer him a short deal and reap the rewards. And given the current crop of managers available, United simply have to make concessions. Klopp isn’t available. Guardiola isn’t available. Ferguson isn’t available.
Above all else, United need their new manager to be strong and tactically astute. They need a “hitman” to not take sh*t from the megastars and build a team from a collection of outstanding individuals. Conte has an extraordinary track record of bringing almost instant success wherever he goes. And while his stay may be brief, it will be different and exciting. Best of all, it offers the greatest chance of the removal of ‘DNA’ from regular footballing parlance, as it is condemned to the history books, where it very much belongs.
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