London - Louis van Gaal was left hoping for
a stay of execution over Christmas after speculation mounted that the
Manchester United manager was set to be sacked before his side's Boxing Day
trip to Stoke City.
Van Gaal finds himself in severe danger of
being axed halfway through his three-year contract after United's miserable
six-match winless run saw them suffer an embarrassing Champions League exit and
slip out of the Premier League's top four.
In the aftermath of United's lacklustre 2-1
home defeat against lowly Norwich City on Saturday, it was widely suggested van
Gaal had two games to save his job.
Reports claimed a defeat against either
Stoke on Saturday or Chelsea at Old Trafford on Monday would prompt United's
owners, the Glazer family, to dismiss him.
But on Tuesday it appeared van Gaal might
not even last that long after Twitter was deluged with talk that he had been
Those reports were given credence by news
that United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward had travelled to London for a
meeting with club officials.
However, the Manchester Evening News later
reported that Woodward had only been discussing commercial matters rather than
settling van Gaal's future.
With van Gaal's weekly press conference
ahead of the Stoke game set for 17:30 on Wednesday, United would have to
announce the embattled Dutchman's departure before then.
But even if he survives that deadline, van
Gaal - who has overseen just four victories in United's last 15 matches - must
know he desperately needs a winning run over Christmas to have any chance of
saving his job.
Jose Mourinho, sacked by Chelsea last week,
has apparently indicated to United he is ready to take over at Old Trafford if
van Gaal is ousted and that could persuade the Glazers to move now rather than
miss out on the Portuguese coach.
Van Gaal is unlikely to be especially
encouraged by the revelation from Mourinho's agent that no deal has been agreed
with United at present.
"There is nothing," Jorge Mendes
was quoted as telling Globoesporte when asked about reports of Mourinho moving
"We don't know what will happen in the
future, but now there is no agreement. There isn't an official proposal either,
that's not true."
Pep Guardiola would also be high on
United's wanted list after the Spaniard said he will leave Bayern Munich at the
end of the season.
United could appoint van Gaal's assistant
Ryan Giggs as interim boss - a role he served following David Moyes' sacking in
2014 - in a bid to buy time until Guardiola is available.Van Gaal's cause hasn't been helped by
reports that he has lost the support of senior United players, although
publicly they continue to back the former Barcelona boss.