LONDON • Manchester United have held informal talks with representatives of Jose Mourinho to gauge whether the former Chelsea manager would want to succeed Louis van Gaal.
Van Gaal has acknowledged that he is losing the faith of fans and in a poll on Monday by United We Stand, the fanzine, 61 per cent of supporters said they wanted Mourinho to take over. In another poll, 85 per cent called for van Gaal to go.
United retain an interest in Pep Guardiola, but they seem persuaded that he is bound for rivals Manchester City.
There is also support for the idea of handing over to Ryan Giggs, van Gaal's assistant, but there is concern about his inexperience.
Manchester United supporters who want Jose Mourinho as manager, according to a poll by the fanzine United We Stand
The club had considered a move for Carlo Ancelotti, dismissed by Real Madrid last summer, but it was revealed on Sunday that the Italian would be replacing Guardiola at Bayern Munich next summer.
That leaves Mourinho, sacked by Chelsea last week, as the stand-out option to replace van Gaal.
There was contact between the Portuguese's representatives and United within 24 hours of Chelsea director Eugene Tenenbaum informing him that his spell at Stamford Bridge was coming to an end.
Mourinho's appointment is not yet certain though. No deal has been agreed and according to sources close to the Portuguese, he is keen to show respect to van Gaal, a friend, while he is in the post.
Still, there is said to be a "better than Evens" chance that United will turn to him if van Gaal cannot halt the slump.
United, out of the Champions League, have won three of their past 13 matches and slipped out of the top four after losing to Norwich, meaning that the Dutchman's position is precarious.
A trip to Stoke City on Saturday is followed by the visit of Chelsea two days later.
According to the Daily Mail, van Gaal gave a rousing speech to some 200 players and staff as he called for unity during a Christmas lunch at the club's Carrington training ground on Monday.
"We are Manchester United and we will survive - but we have to stick together," he said.
Noticeably, however, there has been no support for him behind the scenes since it emerged that he was genuinely in danger of the sack approaching the festive games.
United have been offered the chance to back, or defend van Gaal in the face of mounting speculation, but have chosen not to say anything.
Several players have held grave reservations about his methods for some time - some of those were conveyed by Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, captain and vice-captain, on behalf of the squad this season. But larger swathes of the dressing room have begun to question the manager privately in recent weeks.
United recognise that Mourinho is the sort of high-profile figure who could galvanise the club and deliver trophies in the short term. But they are just as wary of the drawbacks.
There are doubts about his style of play and his record of promoting youth players is poor.
Those worries, as well as Mourinho's tendency for controversy, were enough to put United off when the Portuguese made plain his desire to be considered as Alex Ferguson's successor in 2013.
Ferguson regularly attracted controversy and had a fractious relationship with the Football Association. But the feeling at Old Trafford is that Mourinho goes even further with his own outbursts and, in the worst moments, brought Chelsea into disrepute.
If a job offer is forthcoming, it will be made clear to Mourinho that United expect a better standard of behaviour and assurances from the 52-year-old, that he understands the club's traditions.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN