It looks increasingly likely both Manchester clubs will start next season with new managers.
United’s Louis Van Gaal is yet to mould a side that looks close to winning trophies, and the football they have played during his 18-month tenure, for the most part, hasn’t impressed supporters. It would hardly be a surprise if they parted company with the Dutchman should they end the season empty-handed for a third successive year.
City are in a far healthier position, fighting on four fronts, but Pep Guardiola’s announcement he will leave Bayern Munich when his contract expires in the summer has led to a flurry of speculation, including a report by Jason Burt in the Telegraph, he could replace Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.
The Chilean has had to deal with a raft of injuries this season, and his squad could still have a successful campaign, but there are clear failings that must surely frustrate the club's owners.
Guardiola is the world’s most coveted manager, one who has won consistently since taking over at Barcelona in 2008.
He’s done so in style too, with his high-tempo, attacking brand of football the envy of nearly every owner in the game. City are likely huge admirers.
If Guardiola does go to City, and all the signs seem to suggest he will, it would be the biggest coup of Sheikh Mansour’s seven-and-a-half-year reign to date, and unless United can appoint a manager capable of going toe-to-toe with the Spaniard, they face being left behind.
United’s last major piece of silverware came in the form of the Premier League title in 2013, which was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final act as manager.
In truth, it was an under-strength squad that overachieved, but the direction they have gone since the Scot’s departure that summer has been worrying. They look imbalanced and lacking creativity.
However, they remain a force in the game by virtue of their huge revenue, which, for now at least, dwarfs City’s. If they replace Van Gaal with the right manager, someone who guarantees success, such as the out-of-work Jose Mourinho, then City will have a fight on their hands regardless of the man in charge at the Etihad next season.
Right now, though, the momentum appears to be with City. The Chinese investment they received late last year is yet to have an impact, but it was a significant moment in the club’s recent history. China is a huge, untapped football market. By creating a partnership with China Media Capital (CMC), a state-backed organisation, they are now in a strong position to grow their name in a new part of the world and develop links with Chinese businesses.
And with Guardiola seen as the logical progression in the dugout, the next few years could see City not just consolidate their position as one of England’s most successful clubs but become a genuine European superpower.
Guardiola is the right man for City, and City are the right club for Guardiola.
He would be surrounded by people he trusts. He worked alongside both Txiki Begiristain, City’s sporting director, and Ferran Soriano, their chief executive, at Barcelona, describing Begiristain as "the most special person of my life" in an Adidas promotional video in 2013. It was Begiristain who gave him the opportunity to manage Barcelona, one of the world's greatest institutions, aged just 37.
Guardiola in 2013: "The director of football [of City], Txiki Begiristain, is the most special person of my life." https://t.co/xNeJ9GiVE2— City Watch (@City_Watch) December 17, 2015
Together, they enjoyed unparalleled success. Fourteen major trophies in four seasons is a remarkable achievement that may never be bettered. The football was breathtaking, an ensemble of artists and creatives, orchestrated by the peerless Xavi.
City have the resources to match his ambitions. He would want high-calibre stars, ones in-keeping with his vision and ethos. Soriano’s brilliant work over the last few seasons means City have serious financial muscle without relying on the wealth of Mansour. If Guardiola wanted a certain player, City could back him with the cash.
And given his track record with introducing young players into the side, City’s £150 million academy, opened just over a year ago, must also appeal.
It’s a world-class facility. Brian Marwood, who oversaw its creation, wants “four to six” academy graduates augmenting the first-team squad in the near future, according to Henry Winter, writing in the Telegraph. Their facilities and initiatives, such as private education for their young players until the age of 16, regardless of whether they remain with the club that long, means they are moving ahead of United in terms of identifying and developing youth.
It’s a dream scenario for Guardiola.
If City do land Guardiola, it would be the latest and most significant symbol of the shift in power in Manchester.
United, bereft of a director of football, are lacking direction off the field. City are in rude health. They just need a top-class manager to complete them.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.