The relationship between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba has hit a new low and it is hard to believe there will be a winner in this battle.
As the frosty welcome Mourinho gave Pogba at the training ground on Wednesday showed — an Instagram post by Pogba during the League Cup defeat to Derby County, while he was in the stand and out of the squad seems to have been questioned — United’s manager has had enough of Pogba’s attitude and the latest public shaming of his superstar midfielder suggests an end game is near. But for who?
It all depends who can win this battle: Mourinho or Pogba?
Mourinho has told Pogba, 25, he will not captain Manchester United again due to concerns over his attitude after the French international was handed the armband on several occasions this season. This situation has been festering and Pogba’s comments after United’s draw at home against Wolves at the weekend were the final straw for Mourinho.
Pogba saying United should “attack, attack, attack” during home games seemingly undermined Mourinho’s ability as a coach and the fact that the Frenchman approached journalists in the mixed zone at Old Trafford, something he rarely did before this season, suggests he had something he wanted to get off his chest.
Mourinho had to make a stand and just like Sir Alex Ferguson would have, he decided to make an example of Pogba and let his squad know that nobody is bigger than the club. We don’t know exactly what Pogba has done (probably not much), other than his comments after the Wolves draw, but it is quite right for Mourinho to punish his player for publicly undermining him.
For that reason, Mourinho was right to discipline Pogba and axe him from being the vice captain. No question. But is Pogba correct to feel a little miffed about seemingly becoming the scapegoat for United’s poor start to the season?
On the pitch this campaign, Pogba has had more shots than any other United player, completed more passes and covered the most distance as well as scoring four goals and adding two assists. Only Alexis Sanchez has created more chances for United than Pogba, but it is safe to say since his $120 million transfer in the summer of 2016 his form for the Red Devils has been inconsistent and often erratic. Mourinho benching him last season was questioned, but it was hardly surprising given Pogba’s displays.
Off the pitch, it seems as though Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, has been agitating for a move for his player ever since he won the 2018 World Cup with France this summer. Unlike at United, Pogba is a key and dependable cog for Didier Deschamps’ France and he starred in key games at the World Cup in Russia. His stock, on a global stage, has perhaps never been higher and his commercial value off the pitch obviously comes into play too with his social media persona, outgoing character and style.
With Barcelona and Juventus suggested as potential destinations for Pogba in January and next summer, will United now cash in on Pogba before this standoff turns into a full-blown feud? Even if Mourinho denies a big issues with Pogba, it’s clear to see there isn’t much respect between the duo. Pogba’s reaction to being given the cold shoulder by Mourinho ahead of training spoke volumes and he chipped back at his boss and give him plenty of ugly looks.
That points to Pogba, an influential figure in the dressing room, being ready to check out at Old Trafford, if he didn’t do that a few months ago already. Keeping an unhappy Pogba around runs the risk of the rest of the squad turning against Mourinho which wouldn’t be tough to imagine given that many have an axe to grind with the combative Portuguese coach.
United’s Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward reiterated Mourinho’s credentials in a call to investors earlier this week, but now he has a big decision to make.
Does he sell Pogba in January and run the risk of him flourishing at Barca or Juve to the detriment of United? Or does he question Mourinho’s decision to throw Pogba under the bus for United’s indifferent start to the season and then, ultimately, undermine the management style of his manager?
Now, it’s all about who will last longer: Mourinho or Pogba.
For now, Mourinho is correct to have called out Pogba. His performances haven’t been up to scratch and his attitude obviously isn’t pleasing his manager. With United off the pace in the Premier League, Mourinho needed to do something to shake up his squad and shaming a star player and big personality may have the desired effect.
It could also prove to be the beginning of the end for Mourinho at United. This is much more than just a spat between manager and player. A struggle for power within United’s squad is now well and truly on and Mourinho simply has to win this.