Manchester United have held initial talks with Ernesto Valverde as they continue their search for an interim manager to take charge until the end of the season.
Valverde is one of a number of potential candidates to have spoken with United, and it is understood other prominent managers are in the frame for the role.
United are conducting a thorough process to appoint an interim boss following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last week, before beginning their search for a permanent successor.
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The club are planning to make a permanent appointment at the end of the season and Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino is their first choice, with Ajax head coach Erik Ten Hag also in their thinking.
United are not ruling out the possibility of making a mid-season move for a permanent manger – even if they appoint an interim beforehand.
It is understood the former Tottenham boss would be interested in moving to Old Trafford, though Pochettino said on Monday he is “so happy” at PSG and will not allow United’s interest to distract him from his current role.
Pochettino joined PSG in January and is contracted to the Ligue 1 club until the summer of 2023.
How much would Mauricio Pochettino cost?
There are a number of high-calibre people United would consider longer-term if available.
The club want to take time to get the right person long term – with the interim seen as someone who can quickly bring stability and momentum for the rest of this season.
Valverde has been out of work since being sacked by Barcelona – who were top of La Liga at the time – in January 2020.
The 57-year-old won two Spanish titles and the Copa del Rey during his two-and-a-half-year spell at the Nou Camp, while he is also a three-time Greek champion from his time with Olympiakos.
Valverde has also managed Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal, Valencia and Espanyol, who he took to the UEFA Cup final in 2007.
United are also interested in Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag, who sources have said would be “100 per cent interested” in replacing Solskjaer.
Brendan Rodgers is another name to have been linked with the United job, although the former Liverpool boss attempted to distance himself from those reports on Wednesday.
Rodgers, who has been in charge of Leicester since February 2019, said: “My commitment is to this club and this team. It’s about the development of the players we have.
“The speculation doesn’t cross my mind. I respect you [reporters] have questions to ask. It doesn’t include me.”
Solskjaer was sacked by United on Sunday after just under three years in charge at Old Trafford.
His final game was a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Watford on Saturday that left United eighth in the Premier League, 12 points behind leaders Chelsea after 12 games.
Analysis: What would Valverde bring?
Sky Sports’ Gerard Brand:
Plenty of questions were raised when Ernesto Valverde succeeded Luis Enrique as Barcelona manager in 2017, and though two La Liga titles in two years quietened the disapproval, he was never universally loved at the Nou Camp.
The main gripe was with Valverde’s style of play: pragmatic, overly cautious and extremely reliant on individual brilliance. Given United’s obvious talent and need to save their season – top four is a minimum – that might well suit.
Domestically he won most of what was put in front of him at Barca, but there were some disastrous European nights during his two-and-a-half-year stint, notably the collapse at Roma in the Champions League 2018, then Liverpool in 2019.
Ultimately, those nights and the lack of aesthetic saw him sacked in January 2020 after losing against Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. Such was the ill-feeling, he was booed every time he was shown on the screen during his final game.
Results-wise, his points-per-game rate (2.23) was an improvement on Tata Martino (2.22), Quique Setien (2.08), Ronald Koeman (1.96) and Frank Rijkaard (1.99), but in the eyes of Barca’s board and fans, fell too short of Luis Enrique (2.41), Tito Vilanova (2.39) and Pep Guardiola (2.36).
He was accused by fans of being a ‘Yes man’ to the Barca board, but he does have experience of succeeding in short-term patch-up jobs.
In December 2012 he replaced the sacked Mauricio Pellegrino at Valencia, and won 14 of their final 24 La Liga games, falling short of a top-four spot by a single point having been 11th when he took over.
By the sounds of it, Valverde would be keen. “The idea of going abroad is attractive: something different,” he said in an interview with The Observer in June. When asked whether that could mean England, he said: “Could be. I wouldn’t mind trying it. You get the feeling that there’s a respect there for what the game is.”
Poch ‘so happy’ at PSG and will ignore Man Utd ‘rumours’
Speaking in Manchester ahead of PSG’s Champions League match at Manchester City, Mauricio Pochettino said:
“I am focused. I am very focused on football. I am not a child, I spend my whole life playing football, and now my 12th year being coach, we’re in a business that the rumours are there. I understand what is going on.
“This kind of thing cannot distract. Rumours are there, we need to live with that. We are so focused, giving 100 per cent to get our best from the club and the players. I am so happy at Paris Saint-Germain, for tomorrow we are so focused to get the best results we can.”
Carrick: United players showed their character with Villarreal win
Michael Carrick believes Manchester United’s players showed their character as they delivered a 2-0 win over Villarreal in the first game since Solskjaer’s sacking on Sunday.
Late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho – his first for the club – sent United into the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners – following Atalanta’s 3-3 draw with Young Boys later in the evening – and lifted the mood after a dismal few weeks.
Carrick, who has taken temporary charge of the first team, could take credit as the introduction of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford in the 66th minute changed a game Villarreal had edged to that point.
“The result obviously is a major plus from the run we’ve gone on – we can’t hide that,” Carrick said. “To get that feeling of winning a football match for the players is huge, and to keep a clean sheet, David (de Gea) was important again so all round there’s a lot of positives to take.
“The biggest [positive] I’ll take is how everyone adapted, the reaction and how they pulled together.
“In situations like this there’s mixed emotions. It’s a test of people and you find out who the real characters are, who’s there with you and who’s not. I thought everyone stuck together in terms of supporting me and my staff and we managed to get the win which is very pleasing. It was a big one.”