Monday 10 December 2018

Mourinho could be wrong manager for troubled Pogba


Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho and midfielder Paul Pogba. Photo: Getty
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho and midfielder Paul Pogba. Photo: Getty

Jason Burt

This is a big week for Manchester United. It could be an even bigger one for Paul Pogba. If - and it is an if given his illness and loss of form - the midfielder plays and plays well against Sevilla in the Champions League tomorrow night and at home to Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday then it can quickly extinguish the flames around him.

If United win both games then the landscape of their season, following an FA Cup victory away to Huddersfield Town (without Pogba) that earned them a favourable quarter-final draw at home to Brighton, appears far brighter. Lose, and it will be gloomier and Pogba will be at the centre of that.

As ever with Jose Mourinho there appears to be creative tension. This is a manager who never shies away from turning a drama into a crisis and he has fanned the debate around Pogba with his comments but also his actions. What is strange is that it has erupted now - in February - deep into a campaign.

As ever with Mourinho, it is complicated. There is no clear right or wrong.

In fact, the problem with the Pogba problem is that both the player and the manager have a point. Pogba is right in that the best use of him is to the left of a midfield three, where he played with such success at Juventus that he was thought worthy of a world-record £89 million fee to take him back to United. So, why not play him there?

But Mourinho is also right in that he has to use Pogba as he sees fit within what is best for his unbalanced team and that the player has simply not played well enough to warrant a free role. And not just of late when he has been justifiably substituted and dropped. After all, it is not as if Mourinho is playing him at right-back.

But, then again, the manager's adherence to a rigid 4-2-3-1 formation does not help Pogba when he is asked to play in a deeper role given he struggles with the positional sense it requires, as various pundits have pointed out.

It does not play to his strengths.

So the bigger problem for Pogba - and, in fairness, it must be remembered he has not said anything publicly - is that if he really does want that team to be built around him then Mourinho is probably the wrong manager.

The problem for United - and this is not Mourinho's fault - is that they surely gave Pogba the impression that it would be his team when they signed him and constructed such an overblown social media campaign.

That came complete with a promo video for adidas, for whom Pogba is a poster boy, with the grime star Stormzy, in which the player danced and practised his goal celebration. 'PogBOOM' Adidas tweeted. Indeed.

Back to the football and something, eventually, has to give. Either Pogba will learn and adapt or Mourinho will rethink and grant him his wish with a shift of formation to the 4-3-3 he craves. Or Pogba goes.

No one is discussing the latter option. Neither United nor Mourinho want Pogba to go and the 24-year-old is not looking for a way out of the club.

But while it may be overblown to suggest Pogba's future at United is in doubt, or that he regrets rejoining, or that his relationship with Mourinho has deteriorated, there are undoubtedly concerns; over his form, over where he plays and where this is all heading.

The hints are everywhere. It is obvious that with more yellow cards (four) than goals (three) this season, albeit along with a long injury lay-off, Pogba has simply not contributed enough. At present he is more marketer than midfielder.


For a big-game player - or a player with a big-game profile - there have not been enough big games. Pogba needs to stop being a show-pony and start showing up.

Is it also purely coincidental that this has blown up soon after Alexis Sanchez's move to United making him, arguably, their biggest player?

Pogba is a popular figure in the dressing-room and although he is portrayed as egotistical it is more an issue of eccentricity and, maybe, a little immaturity which Mourinho has lived with as he previously talked up the 24-year-old as a future captain of his team.

But now the cracks are there. It may be simply that Mourinho's patience has been stretched by the stories surfacing in France last week that Pogba is frustrated and feels misused but when he spoke of academy product Scott McTominay, who took Pogba's place against Huddersfield, it appeared pointed.

"Honestly, I think Scott deserves more than what he's getting," Mourinho said.

"I think maybe it's because he is this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid."

Whoever could Mourinho be referring to?

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