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Opinion: Why INEOS MUST avoid hiring Roberto De Zerbi at Manchester United



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Manager talk is prominent amongst Manchester United fans currently, and one of the most prominently mentioned names amongst the fanbase is Italian manager Roberto De Zerbi.

Currently managing Brighton & Hove Albion, De Zerbi has had the Seagulls flying since his appointment in late 2022. His style of play, known as ‘press baiting’, has captivated fans all across football due to its attractiveness, and many admire his extreme dedication to it.

I think De Zerbi is a fantastic coach, but Manchester United would be unwise to appoint him for many reasons. Below, I explain why I believe this.

Read More: Roberto De Zerbi sends strong INEOS message about the Manchester United job

De Zerbi lives and dies by his sword. His dedication to the game model that has taken him to where he is in management is admirable. But his major concern is the comfort of death at the hands of his own sword.

De Zerbi doesn’t want to adapt, ever. At the top level of football, you can’t dominate like this, especially at a club like Manchester United, which I spoke about in a recent article.

If your player quality is strong enough and your game model covers all bases, you could get away with being so rigid. But De Zerbi’s game model has clear, exploitable flaws, and his lack of willingness to adapt would likely see him run into problems, particularly in Europe.

De Zerbi’s play is highly automated. This hyper-automated style makes it easy for opponents to predict what he will do, and whilst it requires some level of sacrifice in the game model of a lot of opposition teams against Manchester United, they would be willing to do this to win – particularly if United reached a point where they were competing deep in Europe, where winning comes before style. Against a side like Brighton, there is naturally less willingness to want to adapt.

This reliance on automatisms leaves his sides vulnerable to being nullified. He likes to play the game at a very fast speed, playing a very vertical style. When it goes right, this can cause teams big issues. But when they lose the ball, which will naturally happen when playing at such a speed, the defensive structure does not protect them well enough in transitional moments.

Granted, players with good physical qualities that can cover space intelligently and effectively make this less of an issue, and United must recruit these profiles regardless of who the manager is. But margins are fine at the elite level.

Another issue with De Zerbi’s strict automatisms is the amount it restricts players. For some players, this is a positive and having those patterns to fall back on raises the tactical floor of a side. But his extreme insistence on these can be too restrictive for players, again a problem at the elite level. The best footballers need to be able to solve their own problems in order to thrive, whilst De Zerbi aims to solve everything for them and becomes visibly frustrated when players deviate from his solutions.

Take Kobbie Mainoo as an example. De Zerbi prefers his midfielders to be wall players, in which the ball is bounced off in up-back-through sequences. Mainoo is capable of this, but his best quality is possibly his ability to turn out of pressure and unlock space to drive into.

Carlos Baleba at Brighton is similar in this regard and has seen fewer minutes this season as a result because it isn’t what De Zerbi wants from his players. Too much creative suppression can restrict players’ long-term development and also negatively impact player morale.

Whilst his dogmatic methods have benefits, and United’s current squad would benefit from them, they would severely cap the side’s ceiling. With INEOS preaching sustainability and expressing a clear desire to build a project, De Zerbi’s methods feel too contrary to that to ever truly work out at Old Trafford.

Finally, club culture has to be accounted for. While De Zerbi’s ideal style of play is aggressive, fast, and vertical—all things that appeal to United fans—it is also highly repetitive, not something quite as appealing to United fans.

It is highly unlikely that De Zerbi will change who he is, and in his defence, this is what has made him as good a coach as he is. But one can be a top-class coach and not the right fit for what a club needs or wants.

It very much seems that this is the case with De Zerbi and Manchester United, and for these reasons, I believe it would be best for INEOS not to look towards the Italian if they are to replace Erik ten Hag.