Jose Mourinho has left several of Manchester United's senior players "angry and frustrated" with his man-management this season, with sources telling ESPN FC his decision to strip Paul Pogba of the vice-captaincy is merely the latest episode that has bemused many within the dressing room.
As revealed by ESPN FC, Mourinho told Pogba of his decision on Tuesday, just a day after the £89.3 million midfielder had spoken out to demand that United deploy more adventurous, attacking tactics at Old Trafford.
Pogba was absent from the team as United were eliminated from the Carabao Cup by Championship outfit Derby County on Tuesday night. Mourinho's postmatch comments about his team "being in trouble" when defenders Phil Jones and Eric Bailly were left to take spot-kicks in the penalty shootout have also gone down badly, with sources telling ESPN FC the remarks were another example of the Portuguese's negative and critical approach with his players.
Another source, who is close to Pogba's agent, Mino Raiola, has said they believe Mourinho, 55, has lost his greatest asset: the ability to cajole, read and relate to his players.
Despite the growing disharmony within the squad -- one source has told ESPN FC that only a handful of players are now fully behind Mourinho -- the United hierarchy remain determined to back the former Chelsea manager. Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has made it clear to player representatives that the board remain 100 percent committed to Mourinho.
The United hierarchy are aware of the dispirited mood of many of the club's players, but there is a belief, and a hope, that Mourinho can turn the situation around.
One source has said, however, that Mourinho is "picking fights with his players and then asking them to play for him," with another claiming the atmosphere between Mourinho and his squad has been difficult since the players returned to preseason training in July.
Mourinho then exacerbated the situation during the summer tour of the United States with a series of critical comments about his players and the club's transfer dealings.
A source close to a first-team member at United has told ESPN FC that the player has said how he believes he has regressed at Old Trafford and failed to improve under Mourinho's management, having credited previous coaches with taking his game to another level.
But while there is a sense of exasperation with Mourinho's approach, there is also an air of helplessness among the players due to the realisation that the club remains supportive of the manager.
As a result, sources have said a number of players are prepared to consider a future away from United next summer if the situation does not improve.
Despite this, the same source said Pogba has not made a definitive decision on his future and that reports he wants to leave are wide of the mark. The Manchester United midfielder was pictured in training with Mourinho on Wednesday in what appeared to be a tense exchange.
ESPN FC's senior writer Gabriele Marcotti and Manchester United correspondent Rob Dawson also contributed to this report.