Louis Van Gaal has the hagard look of the former champion boxer who has taken one fight too many, and been laid out on his back. His rugged face crumples into a scowl as he struggles to keep his cool in the face of media speculation that Jose Mourinho will take his place in the Old Trafford dugout next season.
Despite denials by Van Gaal, it DOES seem that Manchester United are lining up Mourinho for 2016/17. According to reports, a new deal for the ex-Chelsea manager has already been agreed. The 'Special One' will receive a three year package worth $21.7 million (£15 million) per season.
The Salford club did lead the table at one point in the 2015/16 race, but performances on the pitch have been mixed at best, and a recent draw with Chelsea has put paid to investor confidence.
The share price of the club quickly sank below its float of $14 (£9.67) causing many frowns among the Old Trafford faithful and executive. At its lowest in three years , Manchester United's share ask dropped from $14.50(£10.05) to $13.86 (£9.61) on Monday February 8. It represented a fall of 20 per cent from the start of the year, as the market cap of the club fell to $3.03 billion (£2.1 billion) from a November 2015 high of over $4.34 billion (£3 billion).
At the heart of this slide is the dawning realisation that the team look increasingly unlikely to qualify for the money spinning European Champions League. The club stand to lose around £40 million should they fail to secure a top four berth and qualification. As it stands, United are a full six points behind rivals Manchester City, with that top four place looking increasingly unlikely as the number of games left to play run out.
Manchester United, of course, are a huge global brand and secured a lucrative $1089 million (£750 million) 10 year deal with Adidas in July 2014. A world record for kit sponsorship. But that piece of business is only one strand of an overall business strategy which includes the demand for regular European Champions League qualification, failure to secure this would be a major blow to club and sponsor.
Van Gaal, of course, has been around long enough to know that an inability to win enough matches and realise goals (sporting and business) will mean certain dismissal. Such is the nature of the modern, top echelon #Football Club.
Brought in to steady the club after the lacklustre reign of David Moyes, Van Gaal, in turn, is looking unlikely to claim the third place in the league he was brought in to achieve.
He was also given the task of guiding the club out of the group stages of the Champions League, failure to qualify will render this aim obsolete from the start.
Failure is not a word many associate with Van Gaal. His rival and likely successor, Jose Mourinho, has just experienced that as he was dismissed by Chelsea after a shambolic start to the 2015/16 season. Can't football be ironic sometimes?