Saturday 18 August 2018

Inability of Mourinho to unlock Pogba’s potential a galling portent for season that lies ahead

Analysis

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
David Kelly

David Kelly

Returning to work after a much-needed holiday can frequently lead one to realise just why you needed a break in the first place.

That might apply in the case of a recently-crowned World Cup winner who, after producing his most sustained level of performance in some time, could return to action with Manchester United when they start their Premier League campaign at home to Leicester tonight.

The environment Paul Pogba returns to will be vastly different to that he experienced within the successful French squad who lifted the trophy in Russia just over three weeks ago.

Recognising the difficulties Pogba had experienced in his day job, France manager Didier Deschamps empathetically coaxed not only a series of influential, disciplined displays from the record acquisition for an English club but also unearthed previously concealed leadership qualities in the midfielder.

However, akin to the comedown following a holiday romance, Pogba's return to the reality of his day-to-day existence may prove to be a jarring experience.

Especially if his relationship with the manager maintains its now predictably rocky course, with nothing to suggest Jose Mourinho (right, above) learned anything from the player's blissful summer with his French compatriots at the World Cup.

Paul Pogba. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Paul Pogba. Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The pre-season portents are not promising as the Portuguese pointedly grumbled his way through another joyless jaunt for the club Stateside.

First, amidst what at first glance appeared to be unambiguous acclaim for Pogba's efforts, there lurked beneath a typically snide, self-serving postscript when he added, "I hope he understands why he was very good."

The clear implication of this damning psychological assessment being that Pogba's success was only due to the fact that he had been willing to do for his international manager what he had so often failed to do for Mourinho.

Perhaps he was piqued at the distance between his stated transfer intentions and the policy of his club's hierarchy in what ultimately proved to be a dissatisfactory summer sales period for the Portuguese.

In summary, he explained that it was not necessarily about what he could do for Pogba(right), but what Pogba could do for him.

Which, in bald terms, is a logical enough progression were it not for the already troubled professional relationship between two people who seem to be more adept at bringing out the worst in each other.

Mourinho expanded upon the theme by declaring that it is easier for a player to perform at a World Cup when there are no outside distractions, where every match is vital and the responsibility of playing for one's country can lead to much greater commitment.

All are sound principles but converting these ideals into healthy practice may, on all recent evidence, continue to elude this uneasy relationship.

Which makes one wonder whether, given Mourinho's conviction that he knows why Pogba prospered this summer, alongside the player's renewed confidence in his own abilities to lead, why the Portuguese hasn't considered appointing the Frenchman as his captain?

For now, unless the calf injury sustained during the American tour Mourinho "learned nothing" from is more serious than has been acknowledged, Antonio Valencia holds the captain's armband; and the manager has also listed a half-dozen other names who could succeed the retired Michael Carrick.

Pogba's name was notable for its exclusion.

For the relationship to work, both men need to be singing from the same hymn sheet but for United fans the concern is that there remains absolutely no sign of harmony between these two strong-willed personalities.

However, presuming Pogba is ready to re-commit himself in light of his inflated reputation following those emboldened displays in Russia - and that recent attempts by Barcelona to lure him from Old Trafford don't turn his head toward Catalonia -Mourinho must do the same.

But then the manager has other worries to occupy him, far apart from a moribund spending spree wherein even the highlight, Fred, is hardly sufficient to provide Pogba and Nemanja Matic with the midfield support they need.

This is about the time that, as history has demonstrated, Mourinho begins to get twitchy even if, as he enters a potentially tumultuous third season, he does so without the title wins that preceded ignoble departures from Chelsea and Real Madrid.

The World Cup, which featured 11 of his squad who, largely, managed to exceed expectations on a personal and collective level - from the unheralded Victor Lindelof to the unaffected Jesse Lingard, a more diligent Pogba and fluid Romelu Lukaku - has arguably heaped even more pressure on their club boss.

And so the question lingers as to how so many seemingly inconsistent players under his watch should thrive so obviously when playing for other managers.

At times last season it seemed that Pogba's days at Old Trafford were numbered.

However, instead of trying to forge a convenient mutual alliance with his most valuable player, if Mourinho keeps steering his present course, it is the manager who may well end up being the one who leaves first.

Irish Independent

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