John Giles: Jose Mourinho would have been much better off buying Paul Pogba's international team-mate instead
WHILE Ed Woodward was chasing across Europe to make sure he nailed down Paul Pogba’s signature two summers ago, new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte had already been working with N’Golo Kante for a month and at a third of the cost.
Woodward got his trophy signing but Conte got the player who was pivotal in Leicester pulling off the surprise of the century by winning the Premier League against all the odds.
It’s a neat point of comparison between Manchester United and Chelsea as we contemplate a big, big collision between the two clubs as an appetiser to Sunday’s League Cup final between Arsenal and Manchester City.
I’ll bet that Mourinho would have chosen Kante too if he had any say in the matter and I’m still not sure about that one way or the other.
A glance at Kante’s contribution to Chelsea’s unlucky draw with Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek and in more general terms, his value to Conte over the last 18 months tells me immediately who did the best business
Kante was excellent in the game, running the show in his quiet, unassuming way and I thought Chelsea should have won.
Don’t write them off for the return leg in Barcelona but Conte is struggling for manpower and is being forced to use Eden Hazard as a striker.
He clearly doesn’t fancy Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata and as a consequence, he is compromising creativity in his team.
This is the main issue that makes me hesitate to back them for a win against United.
Everything points to this being a good time for Chelsea to visit Old Trafford. I think the Pogba problem is now dominating the training ground as well as the headlines.
Just 24 hours after Kante’s unfussy but top-class display, Pogba had his tracksuit on for the start of United’s clash with Seville.
He got on the pitch because Ander Herrera was injured early and he is likely to start against Chelsea for the same reason but I don’t think that lad knows whether he is coming or going and I don’t think Jose Mourinho has any idea how to deal with him.
As I said earlier in the week, it’s an insoluble problem. Pogba doesn’t have the positional sense to play in central midfield and Mourinho doesn’t have another option.
As ever when Mourinho is in difficulty, the volume of his complaints get louder and the range of his targets spread. After getting a decent enough draw in Spain, he decided to have a go at Pep Guardiola.
No doubt, in the next 24 hours, he will say some controversial things about his Chelsea opposite number to add to the scurrilous stuff he tried to pedal about Conte already this season.
At the root of that was envy. Conte has shown great class and great man management to hold his team together while he was being undermined from within. He was able to keep doing his job. Mourinho lost the plot.
Conte continues to do his job and I think the players appreciate him for it. They clearly lifted their performance level for Barcelona and if they have the legs for it, they will try to do so again on Sunday.
Mourinho is in the eye of another storm and his future at Old Trafford may well be decided by how he handles the Pogba issue.
If it was another manager who had dropped Pogba for the last couple of games, I would offer praise for making a brave but pragmatic decision.
I can’t do that with Mourinho because he made the rod he’s beating Pogba with when he hyped the lad’s ability beyond anything he was ever capable of doing.
Mourinho can solve all his problems by finding a playmaker to carry the responsibility Pogba is ill-equipped to shoulder but he can’t do that until the summer.
In the meantime, he has alienated the most popular player at Old Trafford and that cannot be good in the short and medium term.