There was a moment at the Bernabéu on Wednesday night when José Mourinho appeared to have detached himself from Real Madrid. The teams had not come out for the second half but the Real coach emerged on his own to spend a minute or two sitting in an otherwise deserted dugout, alone with his thoughts.
It may have been a coincidence but in view of the reports of dressing room ructions which had preceded the first leg of his team's Champions League encounter with Manchester United, Mourinho cut a rather doleful figure. Add in his uncharacteristically subdued responses in the pre-match interviews and it was hard to avoid the impression of a man whose future in the job is becoming increasingly uncertain.
The situation should be clearer when Real renew hostilities with United at Old Trafford in just under three weeks' time, for by then they will have met Barcelona twice, in cup and league, and the fate of their season's ambitions will have been more or less confirmed. Mourinho's team are lying a poor third in La Liga, 16 points behind Barça, the runaway leaders, and it is widely assumed that only by winning the Champions League can he survive as coach, although even then there would be no guarantees.
Three seasons at the Bernabéu are about par for the course for Real Madrid managers. Unless their teams can offer serious evidence that they are capable of winning the Champions League, an honour which has now evaded Real for 10 years, supporters and reporters quickly become impatient for someone else to take over.
Stories in the Spanish media of discontented players and shouting matches with the coach have persisted. Mourinho has expressed doubts about the commitment of some of his squad and is rumoured to have on one occasion bawled out Cristiano Ronaldo, the man most likely to keep Real's interest alive at Old Trafford.
For the followers of one Premier League club which shares the ambitions, if not the kudos, of Real Madrid, all this will seem uncomfortably familiar. Among those likely to be interested in appointing Mourinho should he become available this summer the name of Manchester City will surely figure prominently.
At first glance the idea of Mourinho taking over at the Etihad seems absurd, prompting as it does images of frying pans and fires. City and Real appear to be reading from the same script, except that the Premier League champions' season has collapsed even more dramatically.
After Manchester City had lost limply at Southampton last weekend their manager, Roberto Mancini, apparently could not bring himself to speak to his players and had someone fetch his holdall from the dressing room before flying off to Italy.
Not that Mancini's reticence extended to his post-match interviews. He promised a multitude of changes for Sunday's FA Cup fifth-round tie against Leeds United, which is something he would have contemplated anyway though not quite for the reasons stated.
"I only want players who are ready to fight in the last 12 [Premier League] games," he declared. "I am very angry with a lot of my players and very disappointed at the performance because it is impossible to play the way we did. It is not always the fault of the manager, the players should take the responsibility if they have big balls. If not, they can't play in a top team."
At least Mourinho could not have had doubts about his players in the cojones department on Wednesday. Their commitment against Manchester United was intense and unremitting and but for the goalkeeping heroics of David de Gea the continued presence of Ferguson's side in the present tournament would now be in jeopardy. With Manchester City at Southampton the problem appeared to be not so much a lack of effort as a lack of belief in what they were doing.
In the space of three weeks the gap between United and City at the top of the Premier League has widened from five points to 12 and for the Etihad the Champions League is an embarrassing memory. Ronaldo may yet save Real and Mourinho, but City and Mancini are fast running out of redeemers.
Supporters travelling to the Etihad by tram will hear the recorded voices of City players announcing each halt. Mancini's is among them and some fans may feel like telling him where to get off.
Next stop Mourinho?