Manchester United are willing to extend the contract of Louis van Gaal as manager, though the club will seek a clarification from him within five months about his career intentions at Old Trafford.
Despite another negative reaction from supporters to the club's struggle for goals after the dour 0-0 draw against West Ham on Saturday, the club consider the way Van Gaal (below) has steadied the ship and taken the club back into the top four and Champions League as far more significant than the current style of football.
United are acutely aware that the search for a new manager will take time and do not want to go into the 2016-17 season without a clear idea of the Dutchman's intentions. Their desire for at least a season to carry out the search points to talks at the end of this season and possibly sooner.
There is currently uncertainty about the 64-year-old's plans beyond the end of next season, when his contract expires.
He has always said that this will be his last job in football and that he will limit his tenure to the three years of this contract, then allowing himself to spend time with his wife Trudi.
The notion of Van Gaal wanting to stay beyond the original contract has not been entirely dismissed. The current thinking is that if he takes United to a Premier League title or Champions League success, he may feel he wants more.
Alternatively, Van Gaal may decide that is a good time to call it a day. His appetite and absorption with football will ultimately dictate whether he wants to push on towards his 70th birthday as Sir Alex Ferguson did, who had actually announced his decision to retire in 2002 before going back on the plan.
Even though the talks with Van Gaal will give United a clearer picture, heading into a final season of a manager’s contract is less than ideal for a club. The concern of such a situation is always that the incumbent will seem a lame-duck manager and that the club will seem to be in limbo. It will also place United at the centre of huge conjecture.
With that in mind, it seems possible that Van Gaal may be given a one-year contract extension to create breathing space, as Manchester City did with Manuel Pellegrini last summer.
United are making no secret of the fact that they view City as the favourites to secure Pep Guardiola as their manager — an outcome which the Etihad Stadium club will privately desire more than ever after the desperately poor performance and defeat at Stoke City on Saturday.
But positioning City as the favourites does United no harm, putting the pressure on their rivals to secure the services of world football’s most coveted manager, while they make their own representations.
There is an increasing sense that Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season, though he has shown himself willing in the past to take a break from football. The one-year delay before the United position becomes available does not preclude him arriving at Old Trafford in the summer of 2017.
Van Gaal said in September that he was determined to leave the summer after next.
“I will give it (football) up (in 2017),” he said. “I promised that to my wife. We have not many years together any more. That is the reason. I have to admit I have said to her, when I met her and after our relationship seemed to be very good, that at 55 I shall quit. I am still working and (now) I am 64.”
Meanwhile, the clubs Ryan Giggs co-owns and helps manage — Salford City and Manchester United — have successfully lobbied the Football Association to convince it that there will not be a conflict of interest if the two are paired alongside each other in the FA Cup third round draw tonight.
Giggs’ involvement as one of the Class of ’92 owners of Salford did not look like creating a potential conflict until the side’s 1-1 draw with Hartlepool United on Friday night put them into the third round draw, with the replay scheduled for 15 December.
Possible conflicts of interest are examined on a case by case basis by the FA’s Professional Game Board, which invited both clubs to make submissions on the issue after Salford had reached the first round proper of the tournament.
Though the possible meeting between the two clubs could have seen Giggs ask to remove himself from preparations for the tie, the FA has said it is satisfied that his commitment to his role at United does not create the possibility of him malignly influencing the outcome.
The FA is convinced that its rules are strong enough to preserve the sanctity of the event.
Salford — in whom Gary and Phil Neville, Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt hold a 50 per cent stake — are confident heading into next week’s replay.
Hartlepool manager Ronnie Moore said: “The replay will be a different game. The pitch will be different. But it’s in our hands.
“We will know who we’re playing in the third round by then and, with the Manchester United connection, they’ll all be looking for United.”