To build up the narrative of the entire Manchester United-Paul Pogba saga, I’d like to take you nineteen months back and quote some lines from a ‘classic’ Jose Mourinho interview which most of you might have never come across.
September 2018 – Manchester United are sitting 10th in the league, going through a rough patch. A must-win game for Jose Mourinho’s side at Turf Moor to build momentum after a disastrous start to the season. Well, the game went fine as Romelu Lukaku scored twice to hand his side a tidy 2-0 victory over Sean Dyche’s men. However, something really bizarre happened after the match.
Here’s what Mourinho revealed while speaking in a coaching seminar in Portugal, “His Excellency wanted to leave the stadium in his Rolls-Royce.”
“I told him, ‘If we went to London and you wanted to stay there, that would be one thing. But this is close; it doesn’t make sense’.
“The guy was upset. But then we won the game, and he asked me again. Because I was happy, I gave in a little and said, ‘At least leave on the bus and ask your chauffeur to catch up with you 10 minutes from the stadium, then go as you wish’.
“I went to the press conference and when I arrived at the team bus, parked beside it was a Rolls-Royce with his chauffeur. Now how do we deal with this? You [tell him] never go in the Rolls? You can go when I’m happy? Or you solve this thing in another way to get me ‘on vacation’.”
It has been two years since the incident and very little seems to have changed. Paul Pogba continues to be the centre of negativity at the club, providing his team with unwanted distractions during the most crucial times of an important campaign.
The 74-times France international left Manchester United for Juventus in the summer of 2012, after being left brokenhearted by Sir Alex Ferguson over the lack of first-team opportunities. The story dates back to 2011/12 season when Paul Scholes was convinced to return from his retirement amid an injury crisis in United’s midfield – Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley, Darron Gibson, and Anderson were all sidelined for huge chunks of the season.
As an 18-year-old who had come through the ranks at United, Paul Pogba thought it was finally his time to shine at the biggest stage, but Ferguson instead opted for some experience in the form of Paul Scholes, and it’s one of the many reasons that made Pogba walk away. Later in 2015, Scholes penned down a column in The Independent where he admitted about the pessimistic effect his return had on Pogba’s development.
‘Would it have been any different if I had not come back for that last 18 months? I think my return to the team, and the game time Paul got, was a small part of it’ – Scholes wrote.
‘I should say that Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to keep Paul. We all knew there was a very good player in the making. Little details about young footballers catch your eye when you have been around a big club for a long time. Not just in the way that he played but that he had the confidence to come up to senior players and seek out advice. He was dedicated that way. He was absolutely desperate to make it is as a footballer, and he grabbed every chance he had to learn.’
As a young Manchester United fan, I vividly remember the hurdles we had to go through to sign the-then world’s most expensive player from Juventus, the promises he made and the expectations he brought along with him. Jose Mourinho, in his first interview after signing Paul Pogba, was quick to underline the French midfielder’s strengths and how he wanted him to be at the heart of United ‘for the next decade and beyond’.
The Portuguese coach went on to win three titles – The Community Shield, EFL Cup, and Europa League – in his first season in-charge (16/17), with Pogba at the centre of the latter two. The media and the fans (including me) were impressed by the influence he had on United’s successful campaign. We instantly labelled him as the club’s best signing made in the post-Ferguson era. Little did we know was that we were already in the last pages of the fairy-tale.
Mourinho stripped Pogba of vice-captaincy in September 2018 after he took a dig at his tactics by making the infamous “attack, attack, attack” comment in a post-match conference. The incident made everyone question if the Portuguese were the right man for the job – as he set up his side to play ‘dull’ and ‘defensive’ football week in week out. Following that, several rifts between the pair did make the headlines, but the board failed to react until it was too late.
While the ‘mediocre’ form of football is something a United fan should never put up with, but at times, I ask myself if it was really ‘The Special One’s’ fault. Most of his short-term fixes were rejected by Ed Woodward while some targets were viewed as no better than those already at the club. Our signings that summer was Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, the injured Diogo Dalot from Porto and Lee Grant, as a third-choice goalkeeper from Stoke.
Nonetheless, Mourinho decided to bring the best out of his current lot, and the only way he could do so was by playing ‘cautious’ football. Now, whether you agreed with Mourinho’s style or not, one thing is for sure, this all deeply underlined the pathetic state of those who are in charge.
Even today, we’d buy players on based on their individual ability and not those who fit our system. One classic example I’d use to back my statement is the signing of Van De Beek from Ajax last summer. With almost one-third of the season gone, Solksjaer still doesn’t have a clue on how and where to fit the Dutchman to extract the best out of him.
Similarly, Jose’s philosophy at Old Trafford wasn’t much of his choice; it was a compulsion.
In the 18/19 season, Mourinho got axed in December following which Ole Gunnar Solksjaer took over the reins as the-then interim manager. The Frenchman was given a free role in an advanced midfield position as he finished the season as United’s top scorer. Nonetheless, an ankle injury saw United acquire Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon while Pogba was sidelined, and the playmaker has since taken over his position, being his side’s creator-in-chief. Pogba has struggled for game time, but when picked, he has been slotted in more of a defensive role at the centre of the park, much to his disappointment.
While the Frenchman defines playing for his national team as a ‘breath of fresh air’, his sidekick, Mino Raiola publicly states how it’s ‘over for him at United’. It’s like the pair has gotten used to some special treatment from the Manchester United board. No matter what they say, what they do, there seems to be no redline – neither hefty fines issued nor any suspensions sanctioned.
Yes, I do admit that Solksjaer doesn’t have the same command over his players as Sir Alex Ferguson did. Still, when the entire scenario runs through my mind, I’d often light a cigarette, and ask myself one simple question – What would Fergie do? He’d probably tell the Frenchman to pack his bags, demote him to reserves or the ‘B’ team without any explanation, and then personally sit with Florentino Perez to discuss the transfer terms over a cup of tea.
Well, since we haven’t done that already, the winter transfer window is arguably our best chance of cutting him loose. Only 27 and has almost 18 months remaining in his contract; chances are we’ll end up securing €30-40 million for a player who has got nothing to offer other than ruining the decorum of his dressing room. The fee will help us to strengthen our squad in the appropriate areas.
No, I do not hate Paul Pogba; in fact, I still believe that the French midfielder is one of the best in the world in his position. Paul Pogba has featured several times over the past month, and as someone who watches his team every week, I sincerely feel that he gives us his all every single time he is on the pitch. My primary concern isn’t his performance on the pitch; it’s the situation of uncertainty he has created in and around the club, the effect his statements have on youngsters coming through the ranks. It all goes against the United heritage. It leads my club down.
It’s only a matter of time before we let him go.
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