Wednesday 22 May 2019

Stephen Hunt: Mourinho's handling of Paul Pogba row looking like an exit strategy

Jose Mourinho (left) and Paul Pogba had a heated touchline conversation in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham in January 2018 (John Walton/PA)
Jose Mourinho (left) and Paul Pogba had a heated touchline conversation in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham in January 2018 (John Walton/PA)

Stephen Hunt

Manchester United and Jose Mourinho desperately need a win in the Champions League on Tuesday after the defeat at West Ham yesterday. If they lose that, I don't think the manager will be far away from getting the sack.

When you are under pressure performances do not matter as much as results, but Mourinho is getting neither at the moment. After going behind to an offside goal after just five minutes yesterday, there were parts of the United performance which will have pleased Mourinho. There are other aspects to it which are very worrying.

It is time to let players like Marcus Rashford have a run in the side and see if they can bring a spark and get him out of this mess. What does he have to lose? Other than his job . . .

It is also time for Mourinho and Paul Pogba to ditch their egos and remember they are representing one of the biggest clubs in the world. Manchester United is much more important than these two men, and their behaviour is damaging the club.

The reputation of United and all the hard work and achievements of Alex Ferguson are being tarnished by the manager and the club's record signing. They are putting themselves first.

Both men knew what they were doing when they met on the training ground on Wednesday morning. They knew the TV cameras were on and that any confrontation would be broadcast around the world very quickly.

Mourinho could have sorted out his anger about Pogba's social media activity following the League Cup defeat to Derby County the previous night in his office, long before they headed out to the pitches and long before their ugly spat was seen across the world and attracted more than eight million views online.

It is difficult to fathom his motivation. Maybe Mourinho wanted the images out there because, deep down, he wants out of United. I cannot see any other explanation for his behaviour.

Surely, after all he has achieved, Mourinho can rise above a public row with one of his star players. He does not have to snarl and scowl for the cameras all the time. Why can't he smile and enjoy one of the best jobs in football?

After a fine, victorious World Cup after an inconsistent season with United, Pogba probably returned to Manchester believing he is invincible and holds all the power within the club. He looked like he was ready to leave in the close season, as if he was holding out for a move which failed to materialise.

Although he has stayed at United for now, I am sure Pogba would still jump at the chance to move to Barcelona. Mourinho knows that too. So why doesn't he show he is the better person, prove his managerial experience and find a way to get the best out of his best players?

Mourinho firing bullets and fighting with the press, the fans and his players is not working. There was a time when he was only interested in fighting outsiders. He would never be seen confronting people within his own organisation. I know which I prefer and which is more effective, and I am sure all the United players and supporters concur.

There are serious issues in the United squad; you only have to look at the Alexis Sanchez situation to appreciate that there are problems Mourinho has to address. Sanchez has been tried in a number of different positions but now he just looks like a hard-working winger who is struggling for form and was dropped from the match-day squad yesterday. The dynamism and energy have seeped from his game.

He deserves to be criticised for his performances and his demeanour, as does Pogba at times, but are they down to the manager or the players? Are the enormous wages United agreed to pay Sanchez a factor in his poor form?

So far the United fans have been very generous to Mourinho and I am sure the majority, like the United board, would back the manager, rather than a player who has, in his second spell at Old Trafford, again failed to live up to his full potential.

United fans knew what they were getting when Mourinho was chosen to replace Louis van Gaal. He was expected to compete for the Premier League and Champions League. They were never going to play the 'Manchester United way' under Mourinho but, more than two seasons in, they are nowhere near competing for the top honours either.

What the fans will have also expected is for Mourinho to produce a team which is respected and respectful, and plays and wears the shirt with dignity. You cannot imagine Pogba would get away with his behaviour on and off the training ground, and on social media, if Ferguson was still in charge.

My sporting hero Tiger Woods had his first win for five years last week. During the intervening period he has been through trials and tribulations, he had to fight hard to get back to the top. Some people felt sorry for him, some hated him. I am sure he prefers people's love, demonstrated in those remarkable scenes last Sunday night.

Arrogance and self-belief are good for sportsmen at the top, like Mourinho and Pogba. It drives them. But when you think you are unbeatable, you are always in danger of a fall.

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