Amid growing pressure to step down as manager, Louis van Gaal has conceded that he has not met the expectations of Manchester United's supporters.
In the wake of a 1-0 home defeat to Southampton that was wretched even by the standards of this season at Old Trafford, he said: "I am very disappointed that I cannot reach the expectations of the fans. They have - or they had - great expectations of me and I cannot fulfil them. I am very frustrated because of that."
But, still fresh from a wave of abuse as he walked towards the dressing rooms on the final whistle, Van Gaal (below) refused to say whether he still had the appetite to carry on. "That is a question I shall never answer to you," he said.
Yesterday the club's former chief executive, David Gill, added to the pressure when he said there could and should have been better football from United this season.
The club have scored the same number of Premier League goals as Sunderland and only Aston Villa have scored fewer at home. Gill even admitted he had chosen to go to the cinema on Saturday night rather than watch the highlights of the Southampton game on Match of the Day.
"I am not going to sit here and say that is attractive," Gill said.
"Manchester United, going back to the 1950s, played in a certain way. We want attacking football and I am sure that will be a key part going forward.
"Louis van Gaal has managed top clubs in Spain, Germany and Holland and I don't think he found that difficult, but it is the sheer competitiveness of the Premier League [that has undermined him]."
Van Gaal, who last week seemed to have secured his position in the short term with a fourth straight win over Liverpool, did not attempt to defend the display against Southampton, managed by Ronald Koeman.
“I agree with the fans booing so it doesn’t have any impact,” he said. “They have also a knowledge of football, of entertaining football, and you have to play football to entertain the fans.
“I don’t think we have entertained the fans against Southampton, so they can be very angry, but when we won [against Liverpool] they were not so angry any more. But now we have lost in the last minute.”
It sounded like a concession speech from a beaten man and with Jose Mourinho having reportedly sent United a six-page dossier as to how he could turn the club around — something his agent, Jorge Mendes, denied — Van Gaal seems very near the end, although he still commands significant support in the dressing room.
After the 2-1 home defeat to Norwich in December that left him similarly depressed, players came to Van Gaal urging him to carry on and offering help and advice.
If he is to survive in his post, then the opinion of Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to be significant. It was the withdrawal of his support that was decisive in the decision to remove David Moyes. There are few people closer to Ferguson than Gill, who now serves alongside him as a non-executive director at Old Trafford.
Gill suggested that in the short term United would stand by their beleaguered manager. “Undoubtedly, it has been a season of under-achievement,” he said.
“Everyone would agree with that, given the investment that has been made. But I know everyone here from the owners to Ed Woodward [the chief executive] and Louis van Gaal and his team and all his staff are working extremely hard to turn it around.
“It is not easy.”