With the opening of the January transfer window right around the corner, the rumor mill surrounding Europe’s top clubs would traditionally be focused on the future moves of star players. This time around, however, it is the managers who are dominating the headlines. Already in the past few days, Jose Mourinho has paid the price for Chelsea’s tumultuous title defense and Pep Guardiola has announced he will be stepping away from Bayern Munich at the season’s end, to be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti. And soon there could be another twist, with the future of the man in charge of one of the world’s richest clubs in real jeopardy.
Manchester United suffered a third consecutive defeat on Saturday, and a second straight against a newly promoted team, when going down 2-1 at home to Norwich City. They are now without a win in six matches. During that time, United have been dumped out of the Champions League and have fallen to fifth place in the Premier League, nine points off the top. After the latest disappointment Louis van Gaal admitted that, although he believes he will be given time to turn the situation around, he now has real concerns about being the next manager to face the sack.
“Yes, of course I am worried about that because I know that belief in a manager is very important,” he said. “I think [I will be given time] but I never know, in this world, you never know. It is not up to me, but we shall see.”
According to widespread reports, Van Gaal has just two games to save his job, with a defeat at Stoke City on Boxing Day or at home to Chelsea two days later potentially proving fatal to his 18-month reign.
Not helping his case is the sudden availability of some of the world’s most renowned managers. Surely playing on the minds of the Manchester United hierarchy is the criticism they faced following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, when they opted to appoint David Moyes, who had never won a major trophy, rather than Mourinho, who was then on his way out of Real Madrid. The fear of again missing out on a manager with such pedigree may well lead to Van Gaal being ushered swiftly out the door.
Mourinho always denied that he was desperate for the Old Trafford job two years ago, and particularly that, as was claimed in Diego Torres’ book on the Portuguese coach, he cried when being told he wouldn’t get the post. However, having made it clear he is keen for an immediate return to management, it is inconceivable that he wouldn’t jump at the chance to assume the Old Trafford hot seat this time around.
Still, his appointment would represent a change of heart from United and perhaps an illustration of their desperation to get back to the top. While the 52-year-old has won a league title at every club in which he has completed a full season, as well as landing two Champions League crowns, he has done it with a risk-averse playing style and a hugely confrontational approach. Sir Bobby Charlton, a Manchester United legend, director and ambassador has made it clear before that Mourinho’s antics would be out of step with the values of a Manchester United manager.
Given that Mourinho has sparked more outrage than ever this season, it would be quite a turnaround to turn to him now. Yet, it is certainly not impossible to imagine. In the past two years the club has ditched their previously circumspect approach in the transfer market to instead go after big names for huge fees. There is a clear pattern of trying to give the club the same star power as Real Madrid and Barcelona. A superstar coach, especially one who is as close to a guarantee of at least short-term success as there is out there, would be a next logical step.
There would, though, appear to an even more appealing option. In Pep Guardiola, Manchester United could get a coach who has an incredible record of success, and has done it in a style in keeping with the traditional values of United both on and off the pitch. The problem is that not only would he not be available until the season’s end but there is a widespread belief that the Catalan has already agreed to join United’s local rivals Manchester City. Indeed, Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Monday that he believes Guardiola has already decided his next club.
If City were to get a true premier coach, it could push United even more firmly toward the tempting, if prickly, embrace of Mourinho.