Manchester United manager David Moyes has just 12 games to demonstrate to the Glazer family that he is the man they should trust with a £150m summer transfer kitty to fulfil their aim of winning the Premier League next season.
Though the club retain full confidence in Moyes and, despite a flurry of Twitter rumours yesterday, his job is not under immediate threat. However, the defeat at Olympiakos was the worst performance of his seven months at the helm. It has dented supporters' confidence in the manager's capability to turn around the situation at Old Trafford even further.
United have not yet contemplated changing manager this summer, with the expectation being that Moyes will have set United on course by the next campaign.
However, he will not be retained at all costs and is not immune to dismissal if a downward momentum takes hold between now and May. The fall-off in performances – United have 45 points from 27 Premier League games this season against 68 from 27 last season – is of a scale that the club had simply not anticipated.
One of the most disquieting aspects of the last month is that United do not seem to be improving despite the return of the Robin van Persie/Wayne Rooney partnership after injuries and the addition of Juan Mata to the ranks.
United face Liverpool and Manchester City at home in a nine-day spell next month, with the Champions League last-16 home tie against Olympiakos sandwiched in between.
United trail 2-0 after Tuesday night's dismal away-leg display. Several more bad results could put Moyes in a very vulnerable position.
He must satisfy the Americans in the next 10 weeks that he is the man to rebuild United into a side which can bid for the title next season.
The club's executives, who are privately resigning themselves to a season out of the elite European competition, are well advanced with their preparations for this pivotal summer. They will launch into the transfer market with a pitch to prospective new players that winning the Premier League – rather than merely regaining a top-four premier league place – is their ambition for 2014/15.
They intend to restock their squad with players capable of delivering on that goal and potentially there could be six or seven new recruits in a critical four months of business. The situation is complicated by the World Cup.
But the club hope that business for German or Spanish players could be completed before that tournament. They have been establishing conditions for a clarity of thought between Moyes and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward which was missing amid the muddle of last summer.
Behind the scenes, an intense period of modernisation work has already been undertaken to ensure that Moyes is equipped with detailed transfer market and scouting information system akin to the one which delivered for him at Everton.
The system he inherited from Alex Ferguson was difficult to fathom in some respects and the greater clarity is designed to help Moyes shake off the indecision which saw United miss out on long-term transfer target Thiago Alcantara last summer.
But Moyes will only stay to capitalise if the club's owners believe he has the capability to turn their investment in players into success on the pitch. He was appointed on the basis of interviews with Ferguson, Woodward and Joel Glazer – held on consecutive days last April – and the two executives shared Ferguson's conviction that the Glaswegian was the right man for the job. The Glazers will need to be satisfied that Moyes can turn their investment into results.
there is a limit, though, to how many players can be moved on, because purchasing more than six or seven players will create a level of churn the club would feel uncomfortable with. Nonetheless, the departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, plus the expected exit of Patrice Evra, mean that United could have to go into the market for three defenders alone. (© Independent News Service)
David Moyes has a new problem. At a lesser club Manchester United's insipid performance at Olympiakos would point to an undeclared mutiny by the players: a sign that the team were already looking past the present manager to the next one in. In trade union circles it would be called a "go slow".
If Robin van Persie played the first card in an elaborate game of poker aimed at advertising his potential availability this summer by criticising Manchester United's tactics during the Champions League defeat against Olympiakos, he may have misjudged the strength of his hand.