Fergie casts a long shadow over his successors, says Richard Buxton
United still suffering from Sir Alex's exit; bringing him back may right the wrongs
As Louis van Gaal reaches the point of no return, Manchester United are left questioning whether their problems are far more deep-rooted than their uncompromising manager.
Four successive defeats in a season for the first time since 1961 and their lowest ever English Premier League points tally after 18 games are more than enough to condemn van Gaal to his fate, even before tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) showdown with Chelsea.
But the Dutchman is merely part of the problem, rather than the problem itself - that lies in the lack of authority and leadership that followed Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.
United are no further along in the two years that have elapsed since their legendary manager hung up his hair dryer.
After Ferguson's autonomy disappeared from public view, Old Trafford has become rudderless.
Teams no longer fear stepping out at the Theatre of Dreams, nor do they cower at the prospect of extensive stoppage time - previously dubbed "Fergie Time".
Those hallmarks of Ferguson's lengthy tenure were what made United the reckoned force they once were. The lack of succession plan has seen that legacy increasingly tinted in sepia while its current remnants continue to erode at pace.
The Class of '92 now find themselves divided between the technical area and the television studio. Potential successors to their illustrious throne remain conspicuous by their absence.
So, too, are those capable of seizing Wayne Rooney's floundering sceptre.
A combination of supposedly progressive and proven appointments as Ferguson's successors in David Moyes and van Gaal respectively - neither of whom appears less misguided than the other - continues to backfire.
His once tried-and-trusted conservative approach to recruitment has been usurped by a transfer policy which binges from one impulse signing to the next - often at hefty premiums.
The ruthless destruction of Ferguson's final title-winning team of 2012-13 - only nine remain - has only served to further scrutinise United's inability to cope with life without him.
Restoring Ferguson back to right the wrongs of the previous 29 months would not deviate from United's heritage and its backstory.
Sir Matt Busby was, after all, forced out of retirement to steady the ship following a disastrous half-season by his successor Wilf McGuinness.
History may be forced to repeat itself with the lack of available candidates capable of steering United away from the choppy waters threatening to engulf them.
Ryan Giggs remains touted as Ferguson's heir apparent in the United hot seat, but the absence of managerial credentials to compliment his illustrious playing CV continues to count against him.
Fellow Class of '92 alumni Gary and Phil Neville face a similar predicament as their partnership at Valencia fails to pay dividends.
Perseverance with van Gaal in the hope of a brighter tomorrow will render an already precarious season beyond redemption.
Ferguson's tenure was not always perfect - at times, far from it. His methods were often considered draconian by those inside Old Trafford as much as they were outside of it.
A swashbuckling brand of football, revered as the "United Way", combined with a winning mentality that was matched by his track record, however, often masked that multitude of sins.
Meanwhile, van Gaal continues to be damned by public abrasions without style or success.
The 64-year-old will still be able to walk away from Old Trafford and into retirement without so much as a pang of regret or repercussion.
He will be only the second in a potentially growing list who have failed to fill the void which has scarred United since Ferguson moved upstairs.
DEFENDING VAN GAAL
"When I was a player, my main aim was to win a trophy first and win it playing exciting football second, and that seems to be van Gaal’s too. Given that the Man United hierarchy looked beyond the man’s CV, they knew they were getting a manager who played a precise, possession based game. He was someone who would stabilise the situation and put the club in with a chance of winning trophies again."
— Former Man United defender Rio Ferdinand on Louis van Gaal
BY THE numbers
3 - Manchester United may have trouble scoring, but they have the Premier League's best defensive home record, conceding just three goals. In contrast, Chelsea are without an away victory since beating West Brom in August.