Jose Mourinho's reign began to unravel in earnest over the summer, but an atmosphere of fear and paranoia had already set in long before. Such was the shadow he cast over Manchester United that it began to affect even the most innocuous of matters, even those far from the pitch.
When a member of his backroom unknowingly agreed to a blind date with a media personality, the meeting was swiftly moved from Manchester city centre to a rural Cheshire pub out of fear they would be spotted and Mourinho would find out. When the United employee sat down, his conversation starter was: "I could be sacked for being here."
There was no second date.
In the end, the appointment of Mourinho, one that looked certain to rescue United from the post-Fergie doldrums in May 2016, gradually became so toxic that Ed Woodward and the Glazers were forced to act.
The tension over transfers
In May, Dwight Yorke gave an interview suggesting United would have won the Premier League title with Pep Guardiola in charge. On reading his comments, Mourinho tried to get Yorke removed from his role as club ambassador. The club declined.
It was far from the only disagreement between club bosses and their manager, with the most bruising confrontations being fought over transfers.
Mourinho believed his team over-performed to finish second last season and stressed the importance of increased investment over the summer. He informed Woodward and the recruitment department of the positions he believed needed strengthening and the club's scouts, video analysts and data experts worked on narrowing down the list of targets. But in meetings, usually over Skype, Mourinho is said to have frustrated other members of the staff by demanding players never previously mentioned.
Even in July, and having spent £50 million on Brazilian midfielder Fred, his assessment was that it would be a "difficult" season. It would get worse as the club continued to struggle in signing a central defender. Dismayed at the price quoted by Leicester City for Harry Maguire, Mourinho questioned why none of United's 52 scouts had noticed him playing well for Hull City just a year earlier.
But it wasn't just transfer spending that caused conflict. At one point during the club's preseason U.S. tour, Mourinho pulled English journalists out of a news conference to explain why he would be happy for Anthony Martial -- who had let it be known he'd been unsettled by Alexis Sanchez's arrival in January -- to be sold just days after the club has insisted privately the Frenchman was not for sale.
Already at this time, the hierarchy and Mourinho were no longer on the same page and for the players it became more and more difficult to escape the cloud of negativity.
For their part, United have been quick to stress that Mourinho has been supported in the transfer market to the tune of £400m spent on 11 players -- all, according to sources close to the club, Mourinho's choices. Mourinho, meanwhile, has argued consistently that United have failed to keep up with the "financial and strategic" support offered to his key rivals at Liverpool and Manchester City.
In particular, Woodward was forced to tell Mourinho they would not push the boat out to sign Jerome Boateng from Bayern Munich because of fears over his injury record. It was pointed out that the last two players Bayern had moved on to Old Trafford, Owen Hargreaves and Bastian Schweinsteiger, had not proved to be value for money. As it became apparent to Mourinho he would not get the new centre-back he wanted during the transfer window, he was overheard on the phone in the lobby of the team hotel in Miami during the preseason tour of the United States saying "everything is s---."
It summed up his mood throughout the entire trip that began the tailspin toward the sack.
A "high maintenance" employee
Mourinho oversaw United's worst start to a season in nearly 30 years, but it wasn't just results that had made his position untenable by the end -- it was also his attitude toward colleagues and his squad.
Offered the chance to talk up Paul Pogba after he won the World Cup at his first news conference at UCLA, the 55-year-old declined, instead choosing to say the midfielder must "understand" why his form had improved in Russia. Asked at the same news conference whether he believed his team were capable of challenging Manchester City for the title, he refused to answer.
Even from the start of his time at the club, there was always a nagging feeling that Mourinho didn't want to be there. United was meant to be his dream job but the cool, charismatic coach who showed up at Chelsea in 2004 was not the man who arrived at Old Trafford in 2016.
At his first meeting with journalists as United boss in a Shanghai hotel room, United's press officer told the group of 10 reporters he did not have much time before training.
"We are finished?" Mourinho said as he got up to leave. He had not yet fielded a question and it was assumed he was joking. He wasn't, and the laughter in the room quickly turned to confusion. Mourinho had to be ushered to re-take his seat.
One television reporter took a different approach to his first interview with the new manager in the summer of 2016. A family member had recently played Mourinho's body double in an advert and the journalist thought mentioning the coincidence would be a good ice breaker. It wasn't; the story didn't even prompt Mourinho to look up from his phone.
The interview was short and frosty, just like so many of his appearances in front of the cameras. In one sit-down with Sky Sports, he even sat with his phone on his knee to make sure it didn't extend beyond the agreed 10 minutes.
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Mourinho cut an isolated figure in Manchester and was often spotted sitting alone in the restaurant at the Lowry Hotel in Salford, his home in the city for two-and-a-half years. It was fitting that his last act at the Lowry on Tuesday afternoon was to have lunch, spending most of his time on his phone.
Right from the start Mourinho would make regular trips back to London by train to see his family but wanted it known he was still committed to the job. During his first season he made sure a story was leaked to local newspaper the Manchester Evening News that despite spending time in the capital, he had not missed a single training session at Carrington.
However, much to his annoyance he wasn't in control of everything that seeped out.
After deciding to spring a surprise with his team selection for the derby against Manchester City in December 2017 by picking Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Martial, he was furious to discover the team had leaked on social media 24 hours before kick-off. United lost 2-1 and Mourinho was convinced that one of the reasons was that Guardiola had got wind of his plan. Mourinho demanded staff discover the source of the leak -- the member of staff on the blind date even quizzed his companion about the subject -- but it remained elusive.
As recently as the 2-2 draw with Chelsea in October, his teams were still being published on Twitter the day before the game, often sending Mourinho into a rage before a ball had been kicked.
There were plenty of light moments with players, staff and fans -- he watched part of a reserve team game with disabled fans in September, and would often be seen joking with players in favour along with former assistant Rui Faria -- but club employees routinely found him difficult to deal with, privately commenting he was "high maintenance."
Ahead of the FA Cup semifinal against Tottenham in April, he refused to choose between two hotel options, the Wembley Hilton and The Landmark in Marylebone. He was told both had pros and cons, which were spelled out to him. He shrugged his shoulders, told staff to choose but was unhappy once in the Hilton because his favourite meeting room was being used by Microsoft.
According to sources, United even tried to accommodate Mourinho whenever they could and cancelled a series of sponsor events ahead of the Europa League final in Stockholm at his request despite spending thousands of pounds to fly a number of high-profile executives and their guests to Sweden.
These issues weren't just related to members of staff. Mourinho's most high-profile feud at United was with record signing Pogba, stripped of the vice captaincy in September, but at different times during his reign the squad had been puzzled by his treatment of Luke Shaw and Martial. Telling a news conference that Shaw had used "his body with my brain" after a positive performance in his first game in four months caused particular bewilderment within an unhappy dressing room.
Mourinho just didn't fit
As well as disappointing results, a poor record in the transfer market and a style of football that failed to excite supporters, there was an overriding feeling that by the end Mourinho thought he was bigger than the club and his tenure had to end. By September, and despite agreeing a contract extension with Mourinho in January following his public flirtation with Paris Saint-Germain, the club were refusing to offer any cast-iron guarantees about his future.
Speculation linking Zinedine Zidane to Old Trafford -- most of which generated in Spain -- was knocked down after the dismal 3-1 defeat at West Ham, but questions about Mourinho in general were treated with more open-ended answers. Without the concrete backing Mourinho wanted, his agent, Jorge Mendes, was forced to step in by releasing a rare statement insisting that everything was fine.
It was telling that following Mourinho's sacking on Tuesday morning, sources close to the club made it clear that both the caretaker manager and the next permanent boss would be leaders who could unite the players behind them and re-connect supporters to the club.
Sources told ESPN FC that the players were "shocked" when they were informed of the decision by Woodward at Carrington on Tuesday morning but that the general feeling was one of "relief."