By Duncan Castles
Manchester United's senior hierarchy is “evaluating all possibilities” as it attempts to arrest the club's steep descent under David Moyes.
Contrary to public statements that Sir Alex Ferguson's successor will definitely be granted at least a second season as manager, Moyes' dismissal is prominent among those possibilities.
Though Tuesday's humiliating 3-0 home loss to Manchester City ensured that United's first post-Ferguson season is statistically the club's worst in the Premier League era, the review of potential candidates to replace Moyes should not be regarded as a knee-jerk reaction.
It is thought that key decision-makers within Old Trafford have been assessing potential replacements as manager for several weeks and further talks are planned.
Having already sanctioned a spend of over £60 million on two headline transfers, handed Wayne Rooney a club-record contract renewal, and approved an unprecedented recruitment spend for this summer, the Glazer family must be concerned that the Scot could be damaging to the value of their asset.
Recruited on the recommendation of Ferguson, Moyes was not the majority shareholders' preferred choice for their first managerial appointment as owners of the club.
The award of a six-year contract was essentially a PR play, with Moyes' contractual terms including a break clause that enables the Americans to sack him at far less than the full salary costs of that term.
Promoted to chief executive officer in the same summer that Moyes was appointed, Ed Woodward will also be conscious that his effectiveness in the new post has been assessed in the context of results delivered by another man's choice as manager.
In addition to overseeing a series of performances that saw the Premier League champions' title defence effectively end in January, Moyes' managerial decisions have resulted in grave internal dissent within United. A strategy of attributing under-performance to the allegedly severely sub-standard squad he inherited from Ferguson has proved particularly divisive.
Key players are said to "have had enough of the way Moyes is destroying their reputation" with his repeated assertions that a squad that won the Premier League by 11 points last season required a radical rebuild to have any chance of retaining the title. On the contrary, they believe the Scot's errant tactics and man management have caused the team's decline.
Others talk of Moyes' failure to understand the essence of Manchester United and the confusions produced by his management following years of crystal-clear leadership under Ferguson.
Characteristic of such problems was Moyes instructing the team to employ a 4-3-3 formation against City at Old Trafford after preparing to play a 4-4-2 in pre-derby training sessions.
Moyes' decision to get Rooney on side after he had repeatedly placed his own interests above those of the club as the team's most important figure has also angered and perplexed.
The level of discontent with the manager among United's squad is such that there is now discussion about making a direct request to the board that he be replaced.