John Giles: Jose Mourinho has a Paul Pogba problem - and the solution is to buy one of the world's best midfielders
Jose Mourinho has a problem.
He anointed Paul Pogba as the most complete midfielder in the world but he doesn’t believe his own words and subbing him in consecutive matches is the visible evidence of that.
Apart from anything else, the Pogba situation is a really good example of what happens when a manager compromises and allows someone in a suit to have a say in team affairs.
The suit on this occasion is Ed Woodward and from the moment Mourinho laid on the hype and set a ferociously high standard for Pogba, he created a hostage to fortune which is now coming back to bite him. I’m sure he was throwing Woodward, who needed a good news story, a bone but I’ll bet he regrets the claim he made about Pogba as it’s simply not true and just about everybody can see that.
For all the bad things Mourinho does, he knows the game very, very well and I very much doubt he would repeat the claim in private if he was chatting with other experienced football people. Mourinho said he made “tactical” changes each time he took Pogba off the pitch. Well that’s true if the tactic was to make his team play better but the real story here is that Pogba has not been playing well. I have to say at this point that I don't blame Pogba for any of this. None of this is down to him. All he can do is play and if someone wants to spend a king’s ransom buying him and then exaggerate about good he is, there’s not a lot he can do about it.
He’s a bright, outgoing lad, enjoys life – and young kids love the entertainment value he provides. But in practical terms, football terms, I don’t think he has the positional sense to ever be the player Mourinho described and for that reason, can never run a game the way Luka Modric can or closer to home, Kevin de Bruyne.
Mourinho dumped De Bruyne when he was at Chelsea because he is not a manager who likes to wait for a player to develop. He is after the finished article and it’s likely that he didn’t even buy the lad given what happened in the following months. But de Bruyne is 26 now and in that career slot when he should be at the height of his physical powers and at the point of maturity where he has the knowledge to use his talents as well as possible. He also has a wonderful attitude to the game, a true team player and I’m certain that Pep Guardiola watched this develop in the Bundesliga and recognised what he was capable of a long time before the rest of us.
The qualities de Bruyne possesses and Pogba lacks are all important. The Belgian sees the game and knows where to be on the pitch to have the biggest impact on the outcome. Pogba can light a game up in a flash with a trick or a big pass but can’t do it with any consistency. You can’t influence a game properly if your positional sense is poor.
The heart of the point I’m making here is that the best thing Mourinho could do to get the most out of Pogba would be to buy de Bruyne. Remember, Pogba had Andrea Pirlo playing inside him at Juventus and this was the key to the form he showed in Serie A which made him such a hot ticket. Obviously, Mourinho has no chance of ever signing de Bruyne for Manchester United so he must look elsewhere.
Perhaps he could prise Modric loose if the upheaval everyone is expecting at Real Madrid takes place in the summer. For the moment, Nemanja Matic is the best he has and he’s pretty capable but he needs a midfield master to complete the jigsaw and create an environment in which Pogba and Alexis Sanchez could cause havoc.