LONDON • As Louis van Gaal battles to save his job, the Manchester United hierarchy have a dilemma: Line up Jose Mourinho or wait on Pep Guardiola.
According to ESPN FC, United believe that Guardiola's widely anticipated summer move to Manchester City is not cast in stone.
And the club are mindful that if Mourinho is to replace van Gaal, they will give up any chance of taking Guardiola to Old Trafford.
Pressure has been mounting on van Gaal following a six-game winless streak that saw the club bow out of the Champions League in the group stages and drop out of the top four in the Premier League.
It is understood that van Gaal needs to win his next two games - away to Stoke City on Saturday and home to champions Chelsea two days later - to stay at the helm.
Should he fail to get six points, Mourinho represents an immediate replacement. But competition for the Portuguese's services is also growing, with Spanish media reports suggesting that Real Madrid want Mourinho back at the Bernabeu for a second spell.
The 52-year-old managed the Spanish giants from 2010 to 2013, winning La Liga in 2012.
With Real manager Rafael Benitez under pressure, club president Florentino Perez has reportedly sounded out the Real board over the possibility of signing Mourinho, who has made clear that he does not need a sabbatical following his sacking by Chelsea.
The 10-time European champions could yet steal a march on United, with the Red Devils yet to make an official offer to Mourinho, according to the Portuguese's agent Jorge Mendes.
"There is nothing.
"We don't know what will happen in the future but now there is no agreement.
"There isn't an official proposal either," British media quoted Mendes as telling Globo Esporte.
Even so, van Gaal's cause has not been helped by reports that he has lost the support of senior United players, although publicly they continue to back the 64-year-old.
Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are already considering their futures at Old Trafford should the Dutchman stay on.
Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick confronted van Gaal earlier in the season to register complaints on behalf of the squad about his regimented tactics and suffocating style of play.
And the concerns of players have mushroomed in recent months as results have deteriorated.
Mata and Herrera - popular, solid characters in the dressing room - are among those who feel stifled by van Gaal's tactics. But, while they remain committed to trying to arrest United's ailing fortunes, they are concerned about what the future holds for them at Old Trafford under the manager.
There is no prospect of the players leaving the club in the short term, but, in the unlikely event that van Gaal survives the season at United, the pair are expected to explore their options.
Mata, 27, who was signed from Chelsea by David Moyes last year, has been an almost ever-present under van Gaal this season, starting 24 of the club's 27 matches.
But he has become accustomed to a position on the right wing as opposed to his favoured central berth.
Herrera has had a far harder time trying to win van Gaal's backing, starting only 32 of the manager's 71 matches since becoming his first signing when he arrived from Athletic Bilbao in June last year.
A hamstring injury had kept Herrera sidelined for a month before his return in the defeat to Norwich but van Gaal has often been reluctant to discuss his omissions.
Now 26, the player also worries that his prospects of forcing his way into Vicente del Bosque's Spain squad will be limited if he is not playing regularly.
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON