It is an oddity of Manchester United’s history that only three managers have presided over a league title at a club that has won 20: Ernest Magnall won two before defecting to Manchester City in 1912; Matt Busby founded the modern United after taking the job in the aftermath of the Second World War and quit in 1969 having won five; Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down five years ago with 13 to his name.
In between all that, United have suffered a fair share of dud managers.
There were 40 long years between Magnall’s departure and Busby’s first title in 1952, and his immediate successors, Wilf McGuinness and Frank O’Farrell, both failed badly.
Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson might have won FA Cups, but both fell short on challenging for the title, while Dave Sexton, in between those two, was the first United manager to wear the “Cold Trafford” label.
Each of the appointments from Busby on were young, progressive managers whose hunger might be expected to drive them on to fresh success.
But in the post-Ferguson panic, specifically after the failure of David Moyes, a manager in the time-honoured mould, United ripped up the playbook and went for quick fixes, men looking to replicate successes enjoyed elsewhere.
Louis van Gaal arrived at United in 2014, fully 19 years after winning the Champions League with Ajax. José Mourinho followed in 2016 with a vast array of titles to his name but like Van Gaal his former friend, it now appears the golden days lie in the past and not in the future.
And the indication of United’s summer transfer business, in which CEO Ed Woodward pulled up the shutters, is that the club’s hierarchy has lost faith in Mourinho’s ability to be as good a manager as he was 10 years ago.
Both Van Gaal and Mourinho spent the GDP of a small country to try and turn back the tide, but United have not put together anything like a credible league title challenge. Finishing 19 points behind City last season does not count. And all within a period in which no single club has dominated, though Manchester City seem certain to change that.
If Mourinho is imminently headed for the exit, then who might Woodward and his advisors turn to next?
Last week, there were ripples in the French press that Zinedine Zidane might be that man; with three Champions League titles, he has a palmares even more glittering than Mourinho, but a Frenchman who barely speaks a word of English and has just 28 months frontline experience to would be huge risk, whatever his potential marketability.
The manager who best fits the former template of being progressive and with plenty more to prove while still experienced is the man Mourinho faces when Tottenham visit Old Trafford on Monday night.
As Woodward fights fires with his current manager’s gripes and games surround the lack of fresh personnel he might look on longingly at Mauricio Pochettino’s stoic acceptance of Spurs’ lack of summer business.
“I’m not worried, I’m happy preparing the team to arrive in the best condition for the first Premier League game,” Pochettino said towards the end of July at a time when Mourinho was moaning and groaning his way through United’s summer tour, telling anyone who would listen that his squad was not good enough.
The Argentine has the reputation of being the prime polisher of young talent among English football’s top clubs, with England’s World Cup semi-finalists leaning heavily on his gems.
That reputation once lay with Ferguson, said to be a huge admirer of Tottenham’s manager, who took the step of reviving Busby’s devotion to the youth system almost as soon as he walked through United’s door.
While Van Gaal did introduce a wealth of young players, Mourinho has turned his nose up at having to blood youth, and the development of talents like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial has most definitely stalled under him.
In turning to Pochettino in the summer of 2013, Tottenham took a risk on a young and fairly untried manager who had 18 months experience in English football at Southampton, and have reaped the benefits.
He is no shrinking violet, but picks his battles.
As the club suffers in limbo as the new White Hart Lane project stalls and is momentarily homeless, he has offered a calming, dependable presence.
And his team play a brand of attacking football that is little but a memory at United, and can only now be relived by watching DVDs of Ferguson’s peak years.
That was also discarded in favour of two big beasts of the game whose philosophy is unsuited to the club.
When Mourinho’s fall comes, Pochettino must surely be at the head of the queue. His profile fits almost perfectly.