Carlos Queiroz, ignominiously sacked by Portugal this week, could be on his way back to Old Trafford for a third stint working under Sir Alex Ferguson. That’s the obvious conclusion to draw from events of the past week in which the former Manchester United assistant was first suspended and then dismissed as the national team’s coach.
The question is – would Ferguson welcome the 57-year-old back into the Old Trafford fold; and, does Queiroz even want to return for a third time, tail flung firmly between legs?
Whatever the answers to those two questions there is little doubt that Mozambique-born Queiroz would add to the coaching team at Old Trafford. United may have promoted Mike Phelan from within when Queiroz left the club for a second time in July 2008, but few believe the former midfielder’s influence on Ferguson is anything like as significant as his predecessor’s.
Phelan, the ultimate nodding dog, so often appears out-of-place as Ferguson’s right-hand-man. Indeed, for all Phelan’s hard work on the training ground – he takes most first team sessions – Queiroz’ tactical input has never been adequately replaced in United’s coaching set up. Instead, Ferguson chose to beef up the team, with Renee Mulenstein promoted alongside Phelan.
Not that Queiroz is beyond reproach of course, with these pages previously highly critical of the former South Africa and Sporting manager’s predilection for defensive tactics.
Many credit – or blame – Queiroz with United’s transformation from the swashbuckling 4-4-2 that took the 1999 Champions League in such dramatic fashion, to a far more turgid side that failed to gain the Premier League between 2002 and 2005.
In Queiroz’ defence, perhaps that transition had as much to do with United’s destruction at Real Madrid’s hands in Spring 2000, with the Reds’ tactics exposed and midfield at times overrun.
The need to protect an ailing Roy Keane also added much to United’s outlook in this period, with arguably the Reds’ personnel not suited to a flexible 4-3-3 system until Ruud van Nistelrooy had left for the Bernabeu and the Wayne Rooney-Cristiano Ronaldo axis had been established.
Queiroz has also earned significant credit for some of United’s best results in recent memory. The Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in 2008 comes to mind, with United snuffing out the Catalan’s plethora of attacking talent and taking a 1-0 aggregate win before lifting the trophy in Moscow.
“More Italian than the Italians” was Luca Spalletti’s now infamous description of United’s counter-attacking style at the time.
The coach’s record for helping to develop young players is also beyond reproach having been in charge of the Portuguese ‘Golden Generation’ at both Under-21 and national level in the early 1990s.
There are, of course, plenty of question marks hanging over Queiroz’ career with spells first in charge of Real Madrid and then as Portuguese national coach ending in dismissal amid perceived poor results.
The coach could hardly have been more disenfranchised than during his time in the Spanish capital, with Claude Makélélé sold behind his back and el Presidente Florentino Pérez refusing Queiroz’ request to buy central defender Pepe. The decisions left the star-studded Galactcos mark I shorn of defensive cover and eventually finishing fourth in La Liga behind champions Valencia.
Meanwhile, back as Portugal coach Queiroz guided the Selecção to this summer’s World Cup in South Africa with a creditable 63 per cent win ratio overall. But although the Golden Generation is long since gone the sense that Queiroz failed to draw the best out of a squad that includes attacking talents such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Raul Meireles, Danny and Simão Sabrosa is palpable.
Any move for Queiroz would also court controversy in the wake of the coach’s recent ban for acting aggressively towards anti-doping testers who had visited the Portuguese World Cup camp. Queiroz denied the charge but a hearing found that the coach’s behaviour was intimidating and suspended him for six months.
Although Ferguson traveled to Portugal to defend his one-time ally, there was little surprise when the Portuguese Football Federation sacked Queiroz on 9 September.
Moreover, any re-appointment of Queiroz to the United coaching staff will inevitably invite questions of Ferguson’s succession, with the United manager perhaps only two seasons from retirement. Few if any United supporters will countenance Queiroz in the hot seat at Old Trafford despite respect for his coaching, tactical knowledge and youth development.
The alternative for Queiroz is to face rebuilding a career that has suffered in recent times, with a managerial appointment at either a mid-ranked club or national team.
There is little doubt though that whatever the road he chooses, Queiroz will always have friends at Old Trafford.