It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Louis van Gaal is a dead man walking. The Manchester United manager has made himself unpopular among fans with his brand of football, and the best the club can hope for this season is probably scraping into the Champions League. It’s a question of when, not if, he goes – and who should replace him.
If we assume that Pep Guardiola is bound for Manchester City, then Jose Mourinho – persistently linked with United – would appear to be an obvious choice to succeed his old mentor Van Gaal, especially since he is unattached since being sacked by Chelsea in December and therefore available without compensation being due to another team.
I still have no idea how relations between Mourinho and his Chelsea players apparently deteriorated to a fatal extent just months after he led them to the Premier League title. Did the Portuguese start to believe in his own infallibility? I don’t know. I do know that his chastening experience this season is one that he had not encountered before.
It does not change the fact that Mourinho became champion just last summer in his second season back at Stamford Bridge. He is proven in the Premier League, he has done it before, and he is still a great manager. He is still hot property.
They say you learn more from tough times than success, and I’d like to think he will have learned the hard way that he simply cannot afford to fall out with players. He has had time to think about what went wrong and make sense of it, and I think he has the experience and quality to swallow his pride, take it all on board and put things right.
If I was United chief executive Ed Woodward I would tell Mourinho the job’s his – in the summer. That would give the club time to sort out the squad, which I’m sure Jose would want to overhaul, and I imagine he would rather take over at the end of a season rather than halfway through.
United need a top manager at the top of his game. Van Gaal was not that, as recent club stints showed. Mourinho, despite a bruising few months, can still argue that he is, and that this season was a blip. He would make the club more popular and could challenge for the league next year.
In some ways it’s the perfect marriage: Mourinho and United need each other equally. He, like them, simply has to get it right this time. Failure to do so could see a man who almost used to be able to name his next club choosing from a far less illustrious list of future employers.