Friday, July 11, 2008

How Carlos Queiroz’s Departure Affects Manchester United

You can’t blame Carlos Queiroz one bit for answering the call from his country. He’s 55 years old, and if he didn’t take this job now, he may never have gotten another chance, especially with Jose Mourinho already on the record as saying he intends to finish his managerial career with the Portuguese national team.

His record in the past as the top man for both club and country has been less-than-stellar, particularly at the senior level. Again, you can’t blame him for seizing this opportunity to prove himself and to show that he can be successful outside of the large shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Queiroz’s acceptance of the Portugal job has left Ferguson without his right-hand man just five weeks before the start of the Premiership season. There are several candidates in-house that will almost assuredly be considered by Ferguson to fill that assistant’s role — Brian McClair and Mike Whelan chief among them — but none that seem to have the same working relationship and mutual understanding that Queiroz and Ferguson have.

Manchester United will be seeking to win their third consecutive Premiership title, a remarkable feat that the club also achieved from 1998-2001. There is no doubt that United wouldn’t be in this position without Cristiano Ronaldo, who has developed into the best player in the world during his tenure at Old Trafford.

Queiroz was largely responsible for convincing Ronaldo to remain at the club after the incident with Wayne Rooney at World Cup 2006 threatened to permanently sour his relationship with English fans. Queiroz visited the star winger in Portugal immediately after that tournament, and the rest (back-to-back league titles and a a Champions League title) is history. Queiroz has also made his best efforts to drive Real Madrid off Ronaldo this summer, accusing the Spanish giants in no uncertain terms of tapping him up and comparing him to Christopher Columbus, who both Spain and Portugal claim sailed for their respective nations. Simply put, it’s well-documented that Ronaldo and Queiroz have a close relationship.

Queiroz, too, played a significant role in Manchester United’s acquisitions of Nani and Anderson, who both speak Portuguese, last summer. Nani is the natural successor to Ronaldo, if and when he does leave, and certainly has a bright future ahead of him. He’ll play more this season than he did last year, allowing the veteran Ryan Giggs to rest and conserve whatever he has left in the tank. Anderson will do the same for Paul Scholes, who simply can’t go box-to-box on a regular basis like he could in his prime. Anderson can, and is the central midfield general that Manchester United is really lacking.

At 66, there’s no way Sir Alex Ferguson is involved with the day-to-day affairs of the club as much as he once was. He can’t be expected to do everything 100% anymore, and that’s not a knock on him, that’s just the natural effects of age. Having Queiroz right by his side allowed Ferguson to concentrate on the big things, delegating the lesser but still important responsibilities to a man who was on the same page as him. Ferguson has also never been known as a master tactician by any means and again, at his age, it’s unclear how up to speed he is with everything else going on in the European game, knowledge that is necessary for United’s Champions League campaigns.

With Queiroz gone, Manchester United will take a hit. He is widely regarded as one of the top, if not the top, assistant managers in the world, and he can’t just be replaced like-for-like. He has significant influence in Portugal, obviously, a country that produces some of the best young players on the continent, which Manchester United has exploited in recent years. He is almost a second father to Ronaldo and while that may not change, his absence from Old Trafford may push Ronaldo over the edge in his desire to play for Real Madrid.

United fans would be unwise to not take this seriously and assume that the train to another Premiership trophy will simply continue full speed. The club has been able to stay at an extraordinary high level after parting ways with several high-profile players in recent years — Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, etc. — but I’m not sure they’ll be able to do the exact same without Queiroz at Ferguson’s side. Money can buy you more talent on the field, but it doesn’t work that way with coaches.

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