Manchester United - If Not Sir Alex Next Season, Then Who ?

As Manchester United's season disintegrates around them, and the very real prospect of Chelsea winning the domestic double for the first time in their history looms large, Sir Alex Ferguson will be reflecting this summer of what could have been - and what's to come. Will the great Knight set out on another rebuilding expedition, or will he feel that, after 24 years at the club and with the changing financial landscape in football, his time has come ?

If he decides to stay on, Sir Alex will want guarantees that there's money available to spend on top quality players. It's said that the £80m from the Ronaldo sale is still sat there gathering interest. Will he be allowed to buy the two strikers that he needs to complement Rooney ? Will he be able to buy a ball-winning enforcer to get the ball to them ? In essence, will he have the financial backing of the owners ? I, for one, am not convinced he will.

The way that United appear to be doing business at the moment looks to be closer to the Arsenal - rather than the Manchester City - model. Two signings already made for next season are Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez, and although, no-one can argue that they don't have potential, they can't be described as big signings. It will be interesting to see if this is a sign of things to come.

If Ferguson does decide that it's time to step down, then the most sought after managers in the world will clearly be clamouring to replace him. United fans, of course, would like to see an ex-club player take charge. Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes are both rated as 10/1 shots, but Bruce still hasn't proved himself as a manager, and Hughes's stint at City has probably ruled him out of the equation. From what I can see, there are four main candidates - Mourinho, Moyes, O'Neill and Blanc.

Mourinho has got to be the favourite at the moment. His haul of trophies and charisma make him the ideal fit. The downside to this is the brand of football he is becoming renowned for. His style is functional, mechanical - a total contrast from the flair and style he himself portrays. He would also command a huge salary, and would want a budget of some substance - which I think will make his appointment unlikely.

Moyes and O'Neill are from a similar mold. Both are managers of nearly-sides who are looking to make that step up to the very big time. Each has enjoyed success, but will want to test themselves at the top of their profession. Whether they have the pedigree, though, is open to question.

Successful in the League Cup with Leicester, O'Neill has also 3 times won the championship in Scotland, and famously got to the UEFA Cup final, where he was defeated (ironically) by Mourinho's Porto. He's British, passionate and importantly realistic - traits which will resonate well within Old Trafford. He also has the management skills to deal with big name players, and the ability to attract and add to the squad.

David Moyes was a journeyman player who became manager of Preston at only 34 years of age, while he was still playing there. He hasn't won any of the playing accolades that O'Neill has, but has forged his reputation on work ethic, rather than silverware. In his time at Everton, he's got them to the FA Cup final once, but has been Manager of the year three times. This demonstrates the regard he's held in by other managers, who recognise the work he has done in a financially constrained environment - something the Glazers would also appreciate.

And then there's Laurent Blanc. He'd be a popular choice among United fans. Having helped the club to the 2002 / 03 Premier League trophy as a player, Blanc is the most inexperienced manager of the four, having only acceded the Bordeaux hot seat in 2007. In this time there, though, he has broken the Lyon dominance of Liga 1, and taken the club to the last eight of the Champions League for the first time in its history. He's also looking to build a legacy, and seems to be one of the few great players who, given the right circumstances, could go on and become a great manager too.

There are, of course, notable others - Carlos Quiroz, Capello and Lippi. Not to forget Mike Phelan, Brian McLaire and Olly Gunnar Solskjaer - all past players already on the coaching staff at United, but I think that's where they will stay for the time being. Even Ryan Giggs has been touted as a possible Sir Alex replacement. Could a current player achieve what Pep Guardiola  has at Barcelona ? But that's a serious long shot.

For me, Laurent Blanc is the man who will replace Ferguson, and it could happened as early as this summer.

Robert Critchley works in the City in OTC Derivatives. He is an avid Manchester United fan, and commentates at QPR for the Soccer Sight Project.

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