LONDON • When Jose Mourinho assisted Louis van Gaal at Barcelona, they became close enough for Mourinho to bring reports to van Gaal's apartment, and sometimes he would arrive with flowers for Truus, the Dutchman's wife.
The former Chelsea manager has been a presence in the van Gaal household again recently, but this time not a welcome one.
Even Iron Tulips have soft petals. The drip, drip stories about Mourinho taking van Gaal's job are making Truus upset.
Mourinho may be confident that he will manage Manchester United next season, as United approached the Portuguese to begin discussions several weeks ago.
Van Gaal is a man of the world: He knows it is feasible that the process of replacing him is under way, but he does not necessarily believe it. The assurances he has always had from executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward are strong.
He termed the move "nonsense" - a malicious spume he perceives the press is inventing to put him under threat.
"It is not all the media doing that, but I speak in general about the media," he said.
"When I know such nonsense is being created about me, then I cannot believe either that there is already a relationship between Jose Mourinho and Manchester United.
"I cannot believe that because I have seen what is happening in the past two months and it is very difficult for me, my wife, kids, grandchildren and friends to cope with that. But it is not the first country - in Spain and Germany I had to cope with that. It is the football world these days. It is a pity."
This was van Gaal doing something he does not really like on the pitch - counter-attacking.
But he has to take into consideration that there has been change.
Confirmation that Manchester City have hired Pep Guardiola moves scrutiny beyond merely results, and even about whether United are still involved in the title race.
It has football looking long-term, at what former United States president George H.W. Bush exasperatedly called "the vision thing".
The vision thing - a perceived lack of which undermined Mr Bush's political career - is there in spades at City, who built towards Guardiola's appointment over several years and are a club prepared for his arrival. It is not hard to see sustained success ensuing there.
United? Van Gaal's philosophy is still to be expressed in a playing style fans would embrace, and the idea of him handing over to Ryan Giggs has lost sheen, not because of the Welshman but his mentor's struggles and the troubles at Valencia of Gary Neville - which threaten notions of former players turning into brilliant rookie managers.
Pressure to plot a new course grew when City announced Guardiola's appointment. Mourinho has always been a radical measure. And a winner.
THE TIMES, LONDON