TALK OF THE DEVILS

THE whirlwind of speculation over Erik ten Hag’s future was nothing compared to the torrent of activity behind the scenes in a remarkable past few weeks.

The simple fact that Manchester United retained their manager after an end-of-season review disguises the turmoil of at least NINE other bosses being considered to replace the Dutchman.

A stirring and tactically-brilliant FA Cup final win over Premier League kings Man City is believed to have tipped the balance in Ten Hag’s favour.

He already knew failing to qualify for the Champions League would trigger an intense review of his position.

And indeed finishing a club-record low of eighth in the Prem highlighted the pressure Ten Hag was under.

However, having won the EFL Cup in his first season and the biggest domestic knockout competition in his second campaign, his trophy-winning status makes him stand out amongst the six successors, plus two caretaker chiefs, since Alex Ferguson’s 27-year golden reign ended in 2013.

Nonetheless, minority owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s team of Sir Dave Brailsford, Jason Wilcox and Jean-Claude Blancheld spoke to several possible replacements for Ten Hag, including advanced talks with big names.

In fact, The Athletic say Teg Hag was only retained after an intensive board meeting in Monaco, plus a face-to-face meeting in Ibiza.

Ratcliffe’s men had cut contact with him after his Wembley triumph to keep their analysis as scientific and detached as possible – a period that, not surprisingly, troubled ETH until a positive final decision was reached.

And before that verdict United had conducted an equally rigorous process – that of analysing possible successors.

Two contenders are thought to have been dropped from the running pretty quickly.

Those were Sporting Lisbon’s Ruben Amorim and Portugal manager Roberto Martinez.

Amorim, 39, is regarded as one of Europe’s most-respected young coaches.

In fact, Liverpool were linked to the Portuguese before opting for Feyenoord’s Arne Slot to succeed Jurgen Klopp.

Meanwhile, former Everton and Belgium chief Martinez is understood to have been briefly mentioned too.

Barcelona were also monitoring the Spaniard back in March.

But instead he’s remained focused on Portugal’s Euro 2024 bid – albeit having promised much but won little in his 16 years as a manager.

Then come the seven men who have been talked up for the Old Trafford role right up to the last three weeks.

Brentford’s Thomas Frank and Fulham’s Marco Silva are said to have met United representatives just days before the May 25 FA Cup final.

 

And at around the same time Roberto De Zerbi was cementing his standing as a genuine contender.

Red Devils’chiefs eventually decided the Italian didn’t quite match their needs – ironically as he quit Brighton by mutual consent at the end of the domestic term.

Ipswich’s Kieran McKenna led the way for the young pretenders.

United weighed up whether such a huge job after just three years in his only job so far as manager – and all outside the Prem – would be too big an ask at the age of 38.

In the end, despite Chelsea and Brighton also being interested, McKenna signed a new four-year deal with his top-flight new boys.

Ex-Stamford Bridge chief Thomas Tuchel was high up the list for Old Trafford in recent months, particularly once he announced he’s quit Bayern Munich this summer.

But despite impressing in talks with United officials, the German decided he wanted a break from the game and dropped out of the running.

That leaves arguably the two biggest names of the nine.

Mauricio Pochettino shot up the pack of fancied runners when Chelsea sacked him on May 21.

But even the reported backing of legend Fergie didn’t prevent the ex-Tottenham boss falling by the wayside early in June.

Last, but perhaps most intriguingly, comes Gareth Southgate.

After eight years in charge of England, Southgate has admitted his time could be up if the Three Lions flop in Germany.

But he also insisted he wouldn’t consider talking about any other job until after the Eros.

And although Ratcliffe rates Southgate highly, there is no suggestion United got as far as approaching Southgate.

Instead, the Red Devils have handed a third season to Ten Hag, although reportedly giving him less of a say in transfers.

But much like Southgate, who has taken England to the 2018 World Cup semis as well as the Euro 2020 final ahead of the fast- looming Euros, could it be a case of third time lucky or no fourth chance? — Sun.

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