Thursday 19 September 2019

Paul McGrath: 'The players got what they wanted when Jose Mourinho left - but three men now owe Man United a debt'

Read Paul McGrath every week in the Sunday World

Paul Pogba (left), Alexis Sanchez (centre) and Romelu Lukaku (right).
Paul Pogba (left), Alexis Sanchez (centre) and Romelu Lukaku (right).

Paul McGrath

Now the Manchester United players have to step up to the plate. And that’s from someone who knows what he is talking about.

You are reading here the words of a man who had a row with a Manchester United manager, someone he didn’t get on with.

But every time Alex Ferguson picked me to play in that famous red shirt, I went out and gave it my all. I will go to my grave certain of that.

And I played as hard as I could for three reasons.

Firstly, it was a matter of pure professional pride for me.

Secondly, because I wanted to show I was a half decent footballer.

And thirdly, and above all, because I was doing it for the supporters, those people who put their hands into their pockets for their hard-earned cash to watch the team and thus pay my wages.

That’s what I thought of when I was a Manchester United man, not that the manager wanted me out of the dressing-room.

There were Manchester United players who did not do those three things over the last few weeks and months.

I don’t like having a straight-out go at a lad who is still actually a young footballer – but Paul Pogba now owes a debt to Manchester United.

He’s a world champion. And I’m sorry, but it is not as simple as saying that with France last summer he was surrounded by class acts with who it was easy to play – Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Raphael Varane, etc.

It doesn’t matter who you are playing with. I saw Paul Pogba chasing back, heading balls out of his own penalty area, tackling, covering, grafting, when France were under real pressure protecting a 1-0 against Belgium in the World Cup semi-final.

That was nothing to do with the quality of his team-mates.

It was Pogba wanting to be the best player and team-mate he could be, to be a winner, not the player of the last two months at Manchester United.

Pogba is not alone in not producing his best. There are others.

Cynics say Jose Mourinho only bought both Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to stop Chelsea and Manchester City getting their hands on the players.

There’s a grain of truth in that about Sanchez for sure, and Pep Guardiola must be thinking 'what an escape that was' when he considers the outlay the Chilean international would have cost his club.

As for Lukaku, I’m not so sure. What I wonder about him is that his style is not best suited to a rigid, slow, possession-based game that Mourinho favoured. Why did he buy him?

Lukaku is about power and putting himself about and disrupting defences.  Mourinho wanted his players to play around those defences, not through them! What did he want the big Belgian to do?

However, there were too many rumblings of discontent from behind the closed gates of United’s Carrington training ground for it to be just down to one or two disgruntled players.

Too many players have had a public lash of Jose’s tongue in the last year for it to be a happy camp.

It seems Jose was asking players to do things tactically that worked years ago, but which could not deliver the goods now as football moved on.

As Jose has left Manchester United now, I’m wondering if being manager of the club was just something he wanted to do, to put this great club on his resume with Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, etc.

And if that’s the case then maybe we have got to the heart of the problem.

Manchester United is not like that.

It’s something special, a club with a wonderful heart and soul and special place in the lives of its staff and supporters.

I went on to play for many other clubs, but United were just different to them all.

They did things with style and class and they wanted the best of everything and for everyone – and that was before the multiple trophy successes of 1990-2013 that sealed United’s place as the biggest club in the world

I can only imagine how things are done now.

I know, for instance, that the top brass at Manchester United were not best pleased at all when their manager turned up at the Munich commemoration wearing a hoodie underneath his club blazer.

That’s not Manchester United’s way – and it didn’t matter how cold or wet it was on the day.

Where to now for Jose? There’s always a big club looking for a manager, but Jose always looks for a big club with a big budget and there’s not too many of them with vacancies at the moment.

He will likely cool his heels until the summer and then look around.

I know that one of his former clubs, Inter Milan, are unhappy after their Champions’ League exit at the hands of Spurs earlier this month.

But when Jose had such successes at Inter in 2010, the Agnelli family of Fiat fame were the ones paying the bills. That’s not happening now.

And those big clubs will now be looking at the fact that in his last six seasons, he has won just a single Premier League title despite having all the resources of Chelsea and Manchester United at his disposal.

Has the game moved on and passed Jose by?

If you are thinking of employing him, that’s a question a club chairmen and directors have to be sure they can answer correctly.

Get it wrong about Jose and it will end up costing you a lot of money...

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