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Manchester United must choose Pogba over Mourinho

Sportsnet.ca
Manchester United must choose Pogba over Mourinho
Manchester United must choose Pogba over Mourinho

Paul Pogba versus Jose Mourinho. Player versus coach. Talisman versus tyrant. This tug of war has taken over Manchester United’s season early in the 2018-19 campaign. It’s clear it’s time for a divorce of two of the biggest personalities in world football because they can’t seem to even share a pitch together. The differences are irreconcilable.

Which leaves United with a choice on whom to back and proceed forward with. Normally you choose manager over a player because a player’s skills diminish over time. But Mourinho has lost the plot. Even if this squabble with Pogba is resolved there will be another player he falls out with. His ability to manage by berating his players via the media is no longer working. It’s not new or unique to Pogba.

Mourinho criticized his captain Antonio Valencia for coming back to training over weight and criticized Anthony Martial for being away from the team for too long when his baby was born. That was just in the pre-season. More recently he criticized his centre-backs after they were forced to shoot in a penalty shootout. Phil Jones missed the Red Devils’ eighth penalty in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup shootout loss to Derby, with Eric Bailly up next. “I knew we were going to be in trouble with Jones and with Eric. I knew we were going to be in trouble then,” Mourinho said post-match. What leader says that?

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The best example of how he can’t relate to the modern player is his riff with Pogba. Pogba’s relationship with the manager has been poor since last season when the Frenchman was dropped for a Champions League tie against Sevilla.

Pogba showed at the World Cup that when utilized properly, he can be one of the world’s best players and leaders. He balanced having attacking flair with the determination to track back and the responsibility to keep the team’s shape. On the field this year Pogba has played well scoring four goals and assisting on another two.

After Pogba won the World Cup, Mourinho said “the World Cup is the perfect habitat for a player like him to give (their) best. It’s closed for a month. He can only think about football,” implying Pogba was normally too focused on things outside of his training.

The French midfielder said the club should “attack, attack, attack” after a recent 1-1 draw with Wolves which many took as a shot at Mourinho’s pragmatic tactics while playing at home.

The statement from Pogba in isolation isn’t all that controversial. It has been a constant criticism by former players of Mourinho during his tenure at United and well before. Should we be surprised a current player feels the same? Pogba wants to entertain and play winning football, that’s not a bad instinct to be have.

The response came on Tuesday in a pre-match squad meeting where Pogba’s title as second captain to Valencia was being removed, with Mourinho telling him he would never captain the club again. At Old Trafford on Tuesday for United’s game against Championship side Derby, Pogba sat with non-playing teammates in an executive section of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.

An Instagram Story post Pogba made during the match has escalated the situation.

Video emerged of Mourinho exchanging words at training with Pogba for about a minute on Wednesday while Sky Sports was filming, because Mourinho believed Pogba had posted footage of himself laughing at United’s defeat to Derby on Instagram, a game that Pogba left early. It later emerged that the video was filmed an hour earlier, when United was leading but the in-stadium Wi-Fi connection only allowed it to be posted later.

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The fact a social media post is what Mourinho worried about is telling.

Mourinho has flamed out around this time at his previous stops but has normally lifted a major trophy first. He hasn’t done that at United but more importantly he’s no closer than when he arrived.

His act wears thin quickly. Mourinho’s contract doesn’t. Mourinho signed a contract extension in January that runs to 2020. But Pogba can’t be sold until the January transfer window. Pogba is United’s best player not named David de Gea. If he can’t play for you who can?

On the contrary there are many men willing and able to manage a team with budget like United’s. Pogba’s fellow Frenchmen Zinedine Zidane has been rumoured to be in the running after he left Real Madrid. Could one of the best midfielders to ever play the game be the right person to help Pogba become the same?

When I watch United take the field against West Ham on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on Sportsnet I fully expect to see Pogba’s name on the team sheet because Mourinho knows better than anyone who gives him the best chance to win.

There is a reason Pogba was a record £89-million signing and there is a long list of top clubs rumoured to be interested if United were to sell. Who would be interested in Mourinho after the way things have gone at Chelsea and now at Manchester United? The “special one” is not so special anymore. United’s only choice is to side with the special player in Pogba before Mourinho does more damage to the locker room and the brand of the club.

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