Aston Villa players have been holding private discussions about possible managerial alternatives -- with Rafael Benítez mentioned as a likely replacement should Gérard Houllier fail to make a successful recovery from his health problems.
Houllier (63) has been in hospital for seven days after suffering a serious heart scare, and while he is expected to return home this week, he is unlikely to appear at the training ground again this season.
The Villa manager made no mention of a return to work in a statement thanking supporters this week, and few believe that he will make a managerial comeback.
It has been thought that Houllier, after taking on board medical advice, would have the final decision on his future at Villa, but it is understood that conversations had taken place at the club about whether he was fit to continue beyond the end of the season prior to his admission to Queen Elizabeth Hospital last Wednesday.
The team's dismal performances had of course been taken into consideration but, crucially, concerns about his ability to cope with the pressures of modern management were voiced even before he suffered a dissection of the descending aorta, a condition for which he required immediate hospitalisation.
The club have committed themselves to giving Gary McAllister, Houllier's assistant, control of first-team affairs until the end of the season on a caretaker basis. However, in recent days Benítez's name has come up in discussions inside the dressing -room, with members of the coaching staff suggesting the ex-Liverpool manager features high on the list of possible replacements.
Meanwhile, Manchester United have been handed an 11th-hour opportunity to lure Schalke's Manuel Neuer to Old Trafford -- with an escalating war of words between Schalke and Bayern Munich threatening to scupper his anticipated £15m transfer between the Bundesliga rivals.
Germany keeper Neuer (25) was credited by Alex Ferguson as producing "probably the finest display of goalkeeping against us in my time at United", during the 2-0 Champions League semi-final first-leg victory against Schalke in the Veltins Arena on Tuesday.
Neuer has been scouted by United as the club attempt to identify a successor to Edwin van der Sar. Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness has warned, however, that his club will not pay an "astronomical" fee for Neuer if Schalke attempt to capitalise on his performance against United.
"We want Manuel," Hoeness said. "But Schalke's management must now not come up with an astronomical sum. Negotiations haven't started, but they are imminent." (© Daily Telegraph, London)