United share slide should serve as warning for future
While Louis van Gaal's future at Manchester United remains under fierce scrutiny, and with Jose Mourinho's advisers making it clear he would want to replace him, it will be the club's financial performance - and whether it will be affected by the team's poor on-field displays - that will come under the spotlight today.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will address investors and market analysts when he presents United's first-quarter earnings for 2016.
The figures, as has been the case with United for some time, are expected to be impressive but the consequence of further failure on the pitch could prove trickier for Woodward.
There are likely also to be questions as to why United's share price has fallen by almost a quarter since Alex Ferguson retired as manager after winning the Premier League title in 2013.
On Monday, their share price dropped on the New York stock exchange to a three-year low of pounds 9.61.
In the slide, which came a day after United's 1-1 draw at Chelsea and which reversed slightly as trading went on, shares were valued at their lowest level since December 2012.
Van Gaal's side are now six points off fourth position in the league, raising the prospect of missing out on the Champions League, which would appear to make the manager's position untenable for next season.
Woodward is a master performer in such conference calls, as he has an impressive commercial track record, but it will be interesting to see whether any of the analysts deviate from questions on the club's e-commerce and retail kit prospects to try to pin him down on Van Gaal's future or the ramifications of not finishing in the top four.
The United chief has been used to delivering good news. His last report showed that revenues up to the end of last September had risen by 39.3pc to £123.6m, boosted by sales of the team's new replica kit under a record-breaking £750m deal with Adidas and a return to the Champions League.
Today's expected strong quarterly results would doubtless calm the markets.
Although United have a policy of not commenting on speculation over the manager's future, club sources yesterday pointed to the strength of Van Gaal's recent rebuke before and after the Chelsea match when questioned over his future as an indication that he is being kept informed by Woodward, who remains a strong supporter of the Dutchman.
However, the Mourinho camp have let it be known that a dialogue has occurred with United although who initiated those talks remain unclear and the Portuguese is understood to have told friends that he expects to return to work by taking up the job at Old Trafford this summer.
It would be difficult to see how Woodward could persist with Van Gaal into the final year of his contract if the club miss out on Champions League football and do not win a cup this season.
Given Mourinho's availability since he was sacked by Chel-sea and his desire to eventually succeed Van Gaal at United then he would automatically be in contention.
But United also admire the Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone and Tottenham Hotspur's Mauricio Pochettino.
United sacked David Moyes - the successor selected by Ferguson - in April 2014 after it became clear they would not qualify for the Champions League although the club have maintained the situation is different with Van Gaal.
United face Danish champions Midtjylland in the Europa League with the first leg of their last-32 tie taking a place in Denmark next week.
Winning that competition may represent their best oppor-tunity of earning a place in the Champions League.
While Van Gaal remains angered at suggestions that he is facing the sack, long-serving midfielder Michael Carrick - linked yesterday with close-season free-transfer moves to his previous club Spurs and Newcastle United - was the latest to suggest a top-four finish is still possible.
Carrick said: "We have to battle on, keep going and play something like we have been doing over the last few weeks and then see where that takes us. We're not giving anything up yet."
Mourinho, meanwhile, got the stamp of approval from former player Thiago Motta.
The Paris St-Germain midfielder, who worked with Mourinho at Inter Milan, where he won a treble of the Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia, said: "It takes a brave coach to go there [to United] now, but Jose is brave enough."
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