Man United must be ruthless over Jose Mourinho but have no plan to replace him
There are two crucial qualities required at board level by every major football club when it comes to hiring and firing their managers: ruthlessness and foresight.
As the Jose Mourinho "stay or go" saga rumbles on at Manchester United, neither quality is there in abundance in the Old Trafford boardroom.
United's owners, the Glazer family and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward are displaying admirable patience, which is perhaps also laced with indecision as the situation with Mourinho reaches a critical stage. But what they lack is the clarity of thought and readiness to act that have been evident at Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in recent seasons.
When those clubs chose to make a managerial change, there was a clear plan in place for months in terms of succession. But United, as they did with David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, allow themselves to get caught in a fog of confusion and make a mess of things before finding themselves on the back foot when they need to take the initiative.
Both Moyes and Van Gaal were given stays of execution, with their reigns ended only after they missed out on Champions League qualification, but both could and should have gone earlier. The Glazers and Woodward lacked the ruthlessness to act when the situation had been retrievable in each campaign.
History is beginning to repeat itself with Mourinho.
Despite the manner of United's 3-2 victory against Newcastle at Old Trafford on Saturday, when the home team overturned a 2-0 deficit to win with a dramatic 90th-minute goal from Alexis Sanchez, there are still no guarantees that Mourinho will be in charge for the club's next fixture against his former club, Chelsea, on Oct. 20.
The Glazers and Woodward do not want to sack Mourinho yet, but the root of the managerial uncertainty at United stems from the Portuguese's belief that the board has not shown him sufficient public backing, either through a statement or promises of money to spend in January, so the situation remains uncertain.
In this battle of wills, United are showing themselves to be weak with their lack of foresight and ruthlessness. It has been a thread that has run through their big decisions ever since Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012-13 season.
"United are in a mess," a source with knowledge of their football operations told ESPN FC. "They don't have a structure at the club to enable them to plan and lay the foundations for a managerial change.
"Ed Woodward has too many responsibilities -- he should see that himself -- and United are crying out for a technical director or director of football whose job, 24/7, would be to make sure they are ready when hiring a manager.
"They have only made easy appointments since Ferguson left. David Moyes was Ferguson's choice, after they left it too late to hire a world-class coach. Louis van Gaal was coming to end of his contract with Netherlands in 2014, and Mourinho was out of work.
"Next time, they can't afford to approach the market without going out there and lining somebody up. But it looks as though they are making the same mistakes all over again."
Having a new manager lined up would seem a crucial part of the hiring and firing process. City announced Guardiola's appointment in February 2016, four months ahead of his arrival, but that deal had been signed off two months earlier; Liverpool had Jurgen Klopp in place to succeed Brendan Rodgers following his dismissal in October 2015. Chelsea have repeatedly replaced one highly rated manager with another and, for all the delay in sacking Antonio Conte, only ever had eyes for Maurizio Sarri this summer.
The upside of such foresight is that it gives clubs time to plan recruitment of players to suit the new man.
Jorginho would have accepted a move to Manchester City this summer before he knew that Sarri, his former boss at Napoli, would be Chelsea manager. And it was surely not just a happy coincidence that Roberto Firmino left Hoffenheim for Liverpool just months before Klopp arrived.
City, Liverpool and Chelsea also have well-established departments within their clubs charged with ensuring that they are one step ahead when it comes to player recruitment and succession planning with managers and coaches.
United continue to lack such key personnel, and that is why they are now facing the nightmare scenario of Mourinho leaving without a plan for a new man.
Mourinho's track record is reason enough to think ahead when it comes to identifying a successor. Just once has he lasted longer than three years at a club -- in his first spell at Chelsea -- and that was only by a matter of months. United should have been prepared for the firestorm they are now being engulfed by.
But if he leaves tomorrow, what are their options?
At the end of last season, Champions League-winning coaches Carlo Ancelotti and Luis Enrique were available, but both are now employed by Napoli and Spain, respectively. Julian Nagelsmann, seen by many as the next big thing, has committed to moving to RB Leipzig from Hoffenheim next summer, so the 31-year-old is another possible candidate that is out of reach.
Zinedine Zidane is available after leading Real Madrid to three consecutive Champions League titles, but the Frenchman has displayed little appetite so far to engage with United or manage in England. Meanwhile, Juventus' Massimiliano Allegri and Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino -- two of the bookies' favourites -- would need some serious convincing.
Without an obvious candidate waiting in the wings, many might think the safest option is to stay with Mourinho until the summer, regardless of the problems that might emerge between now and then. But even if that were to happen, United would likely wait until May to work on finding a replacement. They operate in a different way to their rivals, but more than just the manager needs to change if they are to avoid the mistakes of the past and get the club moving forward again.