Jose Mourinho's offer of boom and bust could be too good for United to ignore
It is tempting to imagine Jose Mourinho's agent, Jorge Mendes, spending the festive period advising the Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward on the merits of Faustian pacts.
Woodward must know that United would win the Premier League within three years with Mourinho. He would guide them back to the latter stages of the Champions League, too. Logic and history tell us this. The only obstacle can be the fear that United might as well be signing such a contract with blood.
The 'Mourinho at Manchester United' question is not about the success of the club but their soul. With a devil already established in the badge at Old Trafford, extending his presence to the dugout demands deeper consideration.
A full 24 hours have passed since the last public and private statement reiterating how uneasy Mourinho is about being linked with jobs that others still hold, whether it is in Manchester or Madrid. Just in case anyone had forgotten, he is very available, definitely ready, extremely willing and still waiting for the executives at Old Trafford and the Bernabeu to get on with it, but he would never be so disrespectful as to turn up until a sacking is confirmed.
Louis van Gaal has no cause to get the first flight back to Amsterdam's red light district to see such a grand exhibition of eyelid fluttering.
Woodward's next move will define where United are heading for the foreseeable future. It is tough enough for a Manchester United manager to work under one shadow. Van Gaal has three with which to deal.
Either the next United manager will have Ryan Giggs's enduring ambitions to fight off - just like David Moyes prior to Van Gaal - or the eternal question of what might have been will linger if Mourinho and his combustible, but successful methods are ignored.
In the background, Alex Ferguson lingers like an occasionally fretful Titan, his sporadic Harvard-based interviews noting how dreadfully it is all going without him. It was inevitable once Ferguson abandoned football for an academic career that whoever was in the dugout was obliged to be deferential to his methods and success rate. If this is what the United grandees want, then Giggs - indoctrinated by the Ferguson philosophy - is the obvious choice if (or when) Van Gaal falls.
If, as many suspect, Woodward is more inclined to favour a manager who will redefine the United way as well as replicate Ferguson's trophy-gathering skills, Mourinho should have been in position within 48 hours of his dismissal by Chelsea.
The reluctance of elements at Old Trafford to embrace Mourinho is understandable and absurd in equal measure. Hear the concerns about cantankerous, anti-authoritarian coaches who care little about how they are perceived in pursuit of success and you wonder if the Ferguson era took place in some parallel universe.
Aside from Ferguson, it is claimed that Sir Bobby Charlton must offer United's version of a Papal blessing to any incumbent, the suggestion often repeated that Charlton has never been enamoured by Mourinho's self-absorption. Quite how Van Gaal's hugely entertaining but increasingly excruciating press conferences slot into Charlton's idea of presenting the right image of his club must make the board meetings fly.
The difference, of course, is that the Mourinho 'win now, worry about how knackered they are later' style is the antithesis to the long-term legacy-making in which Ferguson excelled.
Mourinho is in danger of becoming the greatest nomad of the 21st century - a sort of footballing version of Dr Bruce Banner, leaving a trail of destruction from city to city but, despite those mood swings, doing far more good than harm as he picks a new shirt and moves on. He must be bemused that United have not already pounced to secure his greatness, well aware that if Woodward picks the fruit from his tree of knowledge, success will inevitably follow.
The visit of the Premier League champions to Old Trafford last night is an example of what makes Mourinho both alluring and unattractive. It is not just about the quality of the teams he creates, but also what he leaves behind. The longer Van Gaal fails to save himself, Giggs is considered too much of a novice and Pep Guardiola has sights on Manchester blue, the more Woodward must be tempted by Mourinho's boom and bust. Unlike under Moyes and Van Gaal, at least there would be a boom. (©Daily Telegraph, London)