Manchester United want to retain "a thread" of their own former players to help manage the club, with Roy Keane emerging as a credible name to assist Louis van Gaal, who appears to be the No 1 candidate to replace David Moyes.
The Glazers, who also have the Real Madrid manager, Carlo Ancelotti, in mind, are understood to be ready to undertake a second meeting with Van Gaal in Portugal, possibly later this week, and there appears to be substance to suggestions that the 62-year-old wants Keane to join him, as someone familiar with the terrain who has managerial experience. Van Gaal's appreciation of Keane goes back to 2001, when the midfielder's brilliance helped prevent the Dutchman's Netherlands team from qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.
The United chief executive, Ed Woodward, will not insist that the new manager retains one of the class of '92, despite interim manager Ryan Giggs welcoming Paul Scholes – returning from holiday – to join the coaching staff. But the view from the top of United is that Giggs is not all that far from management material, if he could gain from working alongside the experienced hand the club will turn to next.
Ancelotti, whom Giggs would find a more accommodating mentor, remains a credible target for United. Neither the Italian nor Madrid would be against a change at the end of the season. Ancelotti could still become the first coach in Real Madrid's history to win the treble but he knows that, however well he does, the job will always be short-term, with Zinedine Zidane ready to take over eventually. United would offer far more stability. Real paid €7m (£5.8m) for Ancelotti last summer.
They would settle for less from United in part because of president Florentino Perez's famous disregard for whoever his coach is – a habit he broke only for Jose Mourinho – and in part because Ancelotti has at times this season rowed against the tide. He has left out summer signings Isco and Asier Illaramendi and not always played the fantasy football Madrid's astronomical outlay on players demands. At United the expectation post-Moyes would be far more realistic.
However, there is plenty of evidence pointing to Van Gaal as United's candidate of choice. United will attempt to prevent the managerial interregnum from damaging their pursuit of early transfer window business by seeking to involve Moyes' successor in transfer decisions before he is hired.
The club are aware that Chelsea and Manchester City were able to begin dialogue over transfers with Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini before they joined their respective clubs last summer. There is also a feeling that the new manager will be more decisive than Moyes was last summer. If progress is made on a target, only for a manager to insist he does not want the player, United are willing to rip up plans.
Though 62-year-old Van Gaal's brash approach is understood to be a source of concern to some of United's squad, Van Gaal's strong working relationship with Robin van Persie is potentially significant in easing his entry to the Old Trafford club.
Van Persie, who did not take to Moyes, has helped United create a path to Van Gaal, to whom he has become close in the two years they have worked together in the Dutch national set-up.
The striker, recuperating from a knee injury in the Netherlands, has attended two domestic games with Van Gaal in the past two weeks and is understood to feel the national team manager's structured approach to work has helped him develop. After his weekly meeting at the Dutch FA on Tuesday morning, Van Gaal left for his holiday home on the Algarve.
The suggestion that Jose Mourinho might be a United candidate remains a persistent one, because the Portuguese, who had a substantial number of backers at United last summer, clearly does not look as happy as he did during his first tenure as manager at Chelsea.
The notion is not dismissed out of hand but United view the prospect of appointing an out-of-contract manager – as Van Gaal will be after the World Cup – as far more realistic than securing one who is in contract on a multi-year deal at a rival club.