LONDON • Louis van Gaal has admitted that he has failed at Manchester United, while Jose Mourinho is increasingly optimistic about his prospects of becoming the English club's next manager.
United are understood to have held talks with Mourinho's camp about the former Chelsea manager replacing van Gaal next summer, but the situation could be brought to a head sooner if results continue to deteriorate and the Dutchman is sacked or walks away.
In what seemed close to a parting statement, he said that he could not deliver what the fans wanted after seeing large sections of Old Trafford turn on him in the team's spineless 0-1 Premier League loss at home to Southampton on Saturday.
"I'm very disappointed that I cannot reach the expectations of the fans," he said. "They have - or they had - great expectations of me, and I cannot fulfil them, so I am very frustrated because of that."
A defeat by second-tier Derby County on Friday in the FA Cup fourth round would heap even more pressure on the Dutchman.
Ed Woodward, the United executive vice-chairman, twice talked van Gaal out of resigning over Christmas. But the prospect of missing Champions League football for the second time in three seasons, and the loss of a windfall of at least £35 million (S$71.3 million), has left the club considering all options.
United trail Tottenham, who are fourth in the Premier League, by five points and face Stoke and Chelsea next.
There were misgivings about Mourinho under the previous United regime, led by David Gill, Alex Ferguson and Bobby Charlton, and there is thought to be some difference of opinion among the hierarchy about the best way forward.
Ryan Giggs, van Gaal's assistant, has had support from Ferguson in the past, even if Gill intimated on Sunday that the Welshman may have to test himself elsewhere first.
"I don't disagree with the notion that you can't be a No. 2 forever," Gill, who remains a director at the club, told BBC Radio 5live. "You've got to go out and prove yourself, and demonstrate you've got what it takes and you can actually do it when you're in the firing line."
Yet the power rests firmly with Woodward, something that Gill has acknowledged, and that is likely to play to Mourinho's advantage as Woodward plots the next course of action with Joel and Avram Glazer, the co-chairmen and owners.
Mourinho craves the job and it is understood that his agent Jorge Mendes has been in regular contact with Woodward.
According to the Daily Mail, Mendes got in touch with Woodward again after their Southampton game - the Red Devils' sixth league defeat this season, leaving them 10 points adrift of top spot.
The Portuguese super-agent, however, has been mindful of being subtle. Rather than asking for his client to get the job, he has been reminding the club that the trophy-laden manager is available, reported the British newspaper.
The Independent and ESPN had both reported that Mourinho had written a letter to United, outlining his credentials to succeed van Gaal, though Mendes denied this.
Mourinho has reportedly made it known through Mendes that he believes he can win the league title in his debut season at Old Trafford.
THE TIMES, LONDON