Louis van Gaal concedes this could be his last day as Manchester United boss
Louis van Gaal has admitted that he is powerless to boost his players' shattered confidence ahead of tonight's match with Chelsea, having told the Manchester United board more than a week ago that he will leave if they wish.
Van Gaal put the ball in United's court seven or eight days ago, when he broached the question of whether they wanted to continue with his services.
Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward is thought to have urged the Dutchman not to walk away, and said that the board desperately want to stick with him for as long as possible.
It was the board's reaction to his offer to quit which prompted his demand for an apology at last Friday's press conference, amid claims that United had discreetly sounded out Jose Mourinho.
But Van Gaal, who has resigned from six of his eight posts and been sacked only twice, clearly feels that four successive defeats - a run last experienced in 1961 - has changed the situation and pushed United's directors to a position where they cannot retain him.
With the thought of resignation already in his mind, defeat to Guus Hiddink's side tonight would make his departure almost certain.
It is thought possible that he will leave regardless of the result, with the 48-hour turnaround after Saturday's defeat at Stoke City too tight to allow him or the club to act.
Dissatisfaction with his methods is not thought to be universal in the dressing room. Wayne Rooney, dropped to the bench for the first time by Van Gaal on Saturday, is thought to have found the manager receptive to him knocking on his door and putting forward ideas.
United's hope is that a win against Chelsea could be the catalyst for a turnaround, with struggling Swansea City and Sheffield United in the FA Cup to follow.
But Van Gaal now feels there is nothing he can do to build his players' self-belief. "No, because it's not so easy any more," he said after the desperate manner of defeat at Stoke. "When you lose four matches in a row, it's much more difficult than after the third match. It's like that and the pressure of the environment should increase. So it is much more difficult.
"There are no ways - artificial ways - to solve that."
Van Gaal said that he did not expect his players to be stronger mentally tonight, when they will seek to avoid the ignominy of a first five-match losing run since 1936.
"No, I don't think so," he replied. "When you lose in a top team, it is always more difficult to cope with your environment."
The Mourinho camp desperately want United to feel urgency about recruiting the Portuguese while they can, with reports of Real Madrid's interest in him forming part of that picture. But there is unease at the top of United about bringing in Mourinho and all that he represents. It is more likely that Ryan Giggs would be placed in interim charge.
Reports emanating from Spain suggest Mourinho is resisting the temptation to make a quick return to Madrid.
Mourinho is currently unwilling to revise his opinion that a swift return to the Bernabeu would not be in the best interests of his career or personal life.
As made clear in the statement released by his representatives CAA in the aftermath of his sacking from Chelsea this month, Mourinho is ready to work and would start immediately if he felt it was the right job.
However, he left Madrid because the politics around the manager's role - the expectation that he spent time networking with officials and media - was not to his tastes.
He felt that he was obliged at Madrid to accept responsibilities far beyond the usual sphere of coaching players. There is no appetite either among Mourinho's family - his wife Tami, daughter Matilde and son Jose Jnr - to return to the city.
It has always been Mourinho's view that he could have stayed beyond the three seasons he spent in Spain and that the club wanted him to do so, however fractured his relationship was with the players.