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Why the Paul Pogba feud spells trouble for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United

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Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba's issues are threatening to boil over
Paul Benson
ANALYST
Modified 27 Sep 2018
Feature

The date was December 17, 2015. Premier League Champions, Chelsea had just lost their ninth League game of the season (of 16 fixtures) and seven months after he led the London club to the title, Jose Mourinho was dismissed as manager.

Despite the ignominy of his Chelsea exit, Mourinho, due to his excellent record of acquiring trophies over the previous decade was still a hot commodity in Football.

Which is why on May 21, 2015, hours after winning the FA Cup, news leaked that Manchester United were set to part ways with the incumbent, Louis Van Gaal who had just managed the club to their first silverware post- Sir Alex Ferguson and were to appoint Mourinho in his place. Which they did, six days later.

Van Gaal paid the price for not qualifying for the Champions League, but the inference was that the Mourinho appointment had been planned well in advance.

United wanted a short-term fix, and Mourinho had the record to suggest he would be the man to provide it.

But, now in his third season, the success United expected from Mourinho has not materialised. The Portuguese did win two major trophies in his first season as the boss in 2016-17, the League Cup and Europa League but as positive as these trophy wins were, these were not the titles, he was hired to win.

Paul Pogba, for his part, was signed for a then world record fee of £89.3 million to spearhead Mourinho's project to fire United back to the Ferguson glory days.

Pogba who had played for United's youth team from 2009 to 2012, left the club in acrimonious circumstances when Ferguson cited a prima-donna attitude from the teenager exacerbated by his agent, Mino Raiola who Ferguson described as a "s**t bag."

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Sir Alex Ferguson - Clashed with Pogba in 2012

Pogba refused to sign a new deal at United and joined Juventus instead and subsequently lambasted Ferguson's supposed "disrespectful" treatment of him.

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Six years later and Mourinho is now the United manager dealing with this problem. Ferguson and Mourinho both cannot be wrong; the two most successful club managers of the past thirty years have both expressed the very same issues with Pogba's attitude. Coming that their experiences span a period of half a decade suggest this is a part of Pogba's personality that is going to take a long time to change.

However, it appears Mourinho has already ran out of patience. After dropping Pogba to the bench for multiple games last season, Mourinho dramatically stripped the Frenchman of the vice-captaincy in front of the entire United squad prior to their League Cup tie with Derby at Old Trafford on September 25, 2018.

The final straw appears to have been Pogba's public comments suggesting his disapproval of Mourinho's tactics versus Wolves following the disappointing home draw with the newly promoted side. This after, previous comments where Pogba announced issues with his own and other squad member's attitudes after United's upset defeat to Brighton, earlier this season.

Mourinho's programme notes ahead of the Derby game all but named Pogba as one of his player's whose attitude was not right. The inference was that Pogba's negative influence has spread throughout the dressing room.

That is a problem. Mourinho knows all too well what happens to a Football manager when he loses the dressing room. He is still badly burned by how his second spell at Chelsea ended. Add the fact that over two years since he took over at United he is still holed up living at the Lowry Hotel suggests that he has, from day one, expected his tenure as boss at Old Trafford would not be for the long-term.

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United's cup exit to Derby at the hands of the first-time manager, Frank Lampard has only added to the pressure on Mourinho, with his side already eight points adrift of the Premier League summit. The manager seems incapable of uniting his squad and instead appears to be at war with them. Pogba's continual comments testify to this. What's also astonishing is that United's board have not intervened to quash such behaviour. It's incredible to think, that aside from Mourinho's symbolic punishment of stripping Pogba of the vice-captaincy, the Frenchman has not suffered any consequences for his undermining of his gaffer. 

Pogba's repeated criticisms of his boss are unheard of at United. Despite the difficulties of their reigns, United's players were mostly supportive of David Moyes and Van Gaal as manager, at least publicly and Ferguson plainly did not tolerate such insubordination.

Ferguson ruthlessly disposed of star names such as David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam and Roy Keane to name a few when they became a disruptive nuisance in the dressing room. Despite their statuses as England Captain and marketing sensation, the most prolific striker in club history, the star defender of the squad and club Captain of the past eight years, all were quickly shuffled out with the minimum of fuss.

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Roy Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson fell out in 2005 - but their issues were kept private at the time

The issues with all were largely behind closed doors with no party speaking publicly until long after the fact. Most crucially, however, is that United's board unequivocally backed Ferguson every single time.

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In 2018, the signs do not look as rosy for Mourinho. The warning signs were there for everyone to see during the summer. Mourinho made no secret of his desire for multiple reinforcements to his squad, but aside from the big money capture of Brazilian, Fred, only teenager, Diogo Dalot and veteran journeyman, Lee Grant were brought in.

Mourinho had openly desired at least one new centre-back, a left back, right winger and a backup striker, with the likes of Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld, Willian, Ousmane Dembele and Marko Arnautović linked. None arrived.

Even more significantly, the board overruled Mourinho's willingness to sell Anthony Martial to help fund his requested spending spree.

This suggests a board level lack of faith in the Portuguese's scouting judgement 

The additional news that United are seeking a Director of Football to coordinate United's transfer policy with the club's strategy and legacy; the United way if you will also speaks volumes about Mourinho's long-term prospects at the club.

Anyone who takes time to sufficiently analyse the Mourinho/Pogba situation will draw the same conclusion. There will only be one winner in this tug of war, and the Lowry Hotel will soon have an additional room vacant.

Ed Woodward and United's board have a decision to make. The more pressing question is; when will they make it?

Published 27 Sep 2018, 00:49 IST
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