Tuesday 22 January 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'Pogba needs an attitude change or he'll be next'

Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho had a difficult relationship. Photo: PA
Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho had a difficult relationship. Photo: PA

Jamie Carragher

A manager's reign unravels at the moment he stops trusting his players. That is why we have witnessed the disintegration of Jose Mourinho's Manchester United career. Where many of us see a squad of talented, underperforming stars, Mourinho saw a group consisting of too many who would not run towards the wall for him, let alone go through it.

United are a failing squad, not a poor one. It has required a joint effort from manager and players to get the club to this chaotic point.

I spent a few hours with Mourinho at United's training ground last summer and was given an insight into the problems ahead. He was a concerned man in pre-season. He spoke of his sense of accomplishment in finishing runners-up to Manchester City, but admitted being worried about the year ahead. He wanted significant additions, especially in defence.

I left that meeting in no doubt about underlying tensions at the club.

Mourinho did not feel his squad lacked ability, but something deeper. A profile fundamental to his best teams, qualities he alluded to in the aftermath of the defeat by Liverpool on Sunday. He did not trust them to give him everything he demanded.

To play for Mourinho, you have to apply yourself physically and mentally in every training session and match. To use that well-worn phrase, you must be prepared to "die" for him. You are with him or against him. If it is the latter, he will not think twice about burning you in public.

The picture which Pogba posted to his social media with ‘Caption this’ as the caption, minutes after Mourinho’s sacking was confirmed. The marketing post had been scheduled and was deleted
The picture which Pogba posted to his social media with ‘Caption this’ as the caption, minutes after Mourinho’s sacking was confirmed. The marketing post had been scheduled and was deleted

United's squad is not substandard. I wrote last year the gulf in talent to City's personnel is not as great as the points tally suggests. How did we perceive these players two years ago? Was the future of English football Marcus Rashford or Raheem Sterling? Was Kevin De Bruyne valued above Paul Pogba? Leroy Sane more highly regarded than Anthony Martial?

United should be challenging for second with the players they have. Yes, they need a centre-back, but they paid over £30 million for two and in Luke Shaw recruited the left-back everyone thought would make the England shirt his for the next 10 years. City won the title with Fabian Delph in that position.

I maintain my argument. Under City manager Pep Guardiola, this set of United players would perform to a higher level. The difference is in the make-up of the managers - how they operate and see the game and how it is received by the players. Mourinho's successful methods are geared towards those with particular traits of physically demanding, tactically brilliant but pragmatic football.

With City, Liverpool and Spurs playing a more offensive and adventurous game, it has become harder for Mourinho to convince the best players his way is correct, regardless of the success it brought him. The most gifted footballers do not want the stifling game any more.

We are in a different era where players watch the Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino way and want it replicated at their club. That is why Spurs fans should be anxious. Pochettino is the stand=out candidate to move to Old Trafford.

The split in the United squad could not have been clearer since last summer.

A year ago, Mourinho was empowered by a new contract he presumed gave him the control to design a team in his image. Six months later, the players he felt would undermine that vision were still at the club - his board evidently unwilling to cash in on young stars who might shine elsewhere - while those he pursued, more experienced and in his eyes reliable, never arrived.

What should have been a minor frustration, missing out on a defender, polluted every press conference.

Football history is littered with examples of the best managers failing to sign prime targets. Alex Ferguson missed out on Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne. Guardiola lost Alexis Sanchez. They move on. Mourinho was incapable of doing so, making more of it than was healthy for the club. It could not continue.

The comments after the Anfield game were a tipping point. I was shocked he said what he did, even if it could not be clearer what he meant. Mourinho never credits the opposition. Never. Throughout his career no rival could be better than him. On Sunday, we heard the words of a manager who sensed what was coming so wanted to deliver a final, damning observation about what his players lack.

"They are fast, they are intense, they are aggressive, they are physical, they have an objective. They play 200 miles per hour with and without the ball," he said of Liverpool. It was his way of telling the world what his players would not do for him.

Inevitably, Pogba is the symbol of this within United's squad, his poorly-timed social media point - intended or coincidental - symptomatic of the disconnect between the manager and star player. United have sent a strong message by sacking Mourinho. They should be equally strong in their attitude to Pogba and sell him if his valuation is met.

Elite

A club can no more be about one player as it can the manager. Pogba may be top class, but he has never shown it in England and there are plenty of elite European clubs performing well without him.

Toxic personalities are of no use to a club. They destabilise everything.

Unfortunately, just as at Chelsea, Mourinho has gone that way once more. I am not sure we will see him again in English football, which is a shame.

His press conferences are box office, regardless of whether you agree with his statements.

He was the greatest manager of the 2000s. Because of club loyalties, we showed a public dislike for each other during our respective Chelsea and Liverpool careers. Privately, I saw how he constructed his team, navigated his way to titles and set up for the biggest fixtures and thought him a genius.

Sadly for him, the ceaseless evolution of football means even the best need to continuously operate at maximum to keep pace. At Old Trafford, he and United's players have fallen too far behind.

Telegraph.co.uk

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