Tuesday 18 June 2019

Comment: Jose Mourinho throws down the gauntlet but battle of egos with Paul Pogba could go either way

Pogba: wearing the captain’s armband for United last month. Photo: PA
Pogba: wearing the captain’s armband for United last month. Photo: PA

Sam Wallace

Sooner or later, the decision Manchester United will have to make will be between backing the judgement of their manager Jose Mourinho or their most famous name Paul Pogba, and it is a measure of the uncertainty around the club that it could go either way.

It has become the relationship at the heart of the training ground: the popular, garrulous star player, who wears his fame with an ease that his team-mates admire and a manager determined that this team will conform to his expectations and his ambitions.

It was Pogba whom Mourinho wanted most when he joined the club in 2016 and looking back it feels like neither really knew what he was getting into.

Mourinho's decision to tell Pogba that he would never again be captain of United after his performance on Saturday and the comments that followed it was a move that will echo through the season. There is no easy way out of this, and Mourinho knows that - the kind of move that has typified his career post-2012 when he has refused to duck conflict with the biggest personalities at the clubs he has managed.

Mourinho had already taken a swipe at Pogba in his programme notes to preview last night's Carabao Cup tie against Derby before his dressing down of the player in front of the rest of the squad.

"I hope we can look back on the game against Wolves as an important lesson," Mourinho wrote. "A lesson I repeat but a lesson some boys are not learning - 95pc isn't enough when others give 101 pc."

Pogba had suggested United were not staying true to their attacking traditions post-Wolves.

"I'm not the manager, I cannot, like, say that but … obviously we should show more option of playing but I cannot say that because I'm a player," Pogba said. "That's my way of thinking - we should move better, we should move more, yeah.

"We are at home and we should play much better against Wolves. When we are at home we should attack, attack, attack. That's Old Trafford. We are here to attack."

When asked what was stopping United from doing that, Pogba said: "I can't tell you because I'm a player. It's not me."

At Real Madrid with Iker Casillas and others, and later at Chelsea in his second spell there, when he bullied and cajoled a team into winning a title and then throwing it all away - this has been a familiar path in recent years for Mourinho.

It was the same in the final months of his first spell at Stamford Bridge too, for all that those concerned tried to cover it up in the years that followed. Mourinho does not wait around for his own reputation to suffer - he will ensure that others are under pressure first.

As for Pogba, there will be many who feel that Mourinho has a point.

The pistols were really drawn during the World Cup finals when it was hard to disagree with the United manager's observation that the bubble of a tournament suited his player in protecting him from distractions.

It has always been the view of those around Mourinho that Pogba is not a rebellious player in the traditional sense. He does not take his manager on face-to-face in the dressing room or on the training pitch. He is no Roy Keane. But the threat to the manager's authority comes from elsewhere.

Now the division of power is very finely balanced. It could go either way and one suspects it will not be long until we hear from Mino Raiola, the agent of Pogba who has a habit of writing his own part in these disputes.

Mourinho will have known sanctioning Pogba was a risky move, but eventually judged it more of a risk to ignore. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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