Jose Mourinho has moved a step closer to the Manchester United job with the news that he has already been in contact with some of the club’s most important players, according to Yahoo sources.
While it is not known which of the players have been in touch with Mourinho, it is worth noting that Mourinho shares an agent - Jorge Mendes - with David de Gea. Mourinho is also a long-term and public admirer of Wayne Rooney, who has been a loyal captain to manager Louis van Gaal.
Rooney would be the obvious point of contact for Mourinho, as a well respected member of the squad, and a player who has maintained good relations with Van Gaal and the previous manager David Moyes. Securing his support would make for an easier transition for a manager who left his last squad on the verge of mutiny. Similarly, De Gea is clearly Manchester United’s most talented player, and ensuring he stays would be a huge coup at a time when United’s squad is in need of significant overhaul.
There have been rumours this weekend that Mourinho is aiming to bring Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli to United in the summer, which would complicate Rooney’s role in the team given they both play the same role, but Mourinho knows Higuain from their time at Real Madrid, and he has almost a goal a game this season at Napoli. The same stories suggest that Mourinho has told close friends that he expects the United manager next season, and any contact with players at Old Trafford would only reinforce the idea that he is confident of his position.
Alex Ferguson has recently relented over the prospect of Mourinho taking the job at United, despite preferring the control he would retain if Giggs were given the role of permanent manager - it is not just Mourinho himself who expects the Portuguese to be in charge this summer. Van Gaal’s time at United is coming to an end unless he pulls off an extraordinary turnaround in results, performances and morale, something that not even the manager anticipates.
Recent performances from Manchester United, save for the FA Cup game against West Ham on Wednesday, show that the squad has given up on Van Gaal as their manager, meaning that his time at Old Trafford is now almost certainly coming to an end. There is an assumption that stories that Van Gaal will see out the full three years of his contract are nothing more than a line from United to keep speculation to a minimum while they actually make a choice.
Stories this weekend have suggested that Alex Ferguson is now on board with Mourinho’s appointment - having deflected him from the United job at the time of his retirement - and Bobby Charlton has no real influence at the club. Ryan Giggs, assistant to the last two managers, has not been able to overcome his association with two failed regimes, and his own obvious inexperience, to make a serious claim for the job.
Ed Woodward has been reluctant to make a managerial change for fear of drawing attention to his appalling management of the club and recruitment, but even he must now recognise there is no distance left to run for Van Gaal. The FA Cup may prove a handy escape for the club and Van Gaal at the end of the season. Should United managed to win the FA Cup then Van Gaal will be able to leave with his dignity intact, give United their first silverware since their Charity Shield under David Moyes, and allow for an amicable split.
Manchester City’s success in the Champions League and their win against Chelsea mean that they are likely to prevent United claiming fourth place, and Liverpool’s Europa League semi-final place might result in them claiming a Champions League place by winning the competition. The only vague chance Van Gaal might have of keeping his job at United would be securing Champions League football for next season, which now seems more than unlikely.
The game against Spurs, a humiliating 3-0 defeat where incompetence - including replacing Ashley Young to play as a striker - hinted why his players have given up any lingering hope of succeeding under him. His needless experimentation and stubbornness only serve to alienate him from the squad and the fans, and it would be no surprise if the resignation amongst the support is matched by the players on the pitch. They all, after all, have to endure Marouane Fellaini. Fellaini is unlikely to be one of the players Mourinho has been talking to.