This weekend Manchester United has a chance to move one step closer towards lifting another trophy. The FA Cup is a small consolation to another uninspiring performance in Europe and being left in the dust in the Premier League by their noisy neighbours Manchester City.
But the semifinal match-up vs. Tottenham, and the use of its biggest star, will be more of an appraisal of where United is going and who will accompany them.
It’s time this Saturday for Jose Mourinho to put his own ego aside and stroke the ego of Paul Pogba with confidence so that the player and the club can both maximize their potential.
England’s most divisive manager and player haven’t been on the same page of late according to the British tabloids. Man United is reportedly seeking £140 million for Pogba this summer, per Chris Wheeler and Simon Jones of the Daily Mail, who quoted a club source about the discord: “He’s been acting like a petulant child. Jose can’t be doing with someone who is always seeking the spotlight and not focusing on their football. You can see he’s getting pissed off with it. There are definitely similarities with Beckham and Sir Alex in the clash of egos and the manager being unhappy with all the other stuff. Jose would sell him, but the club won’t allow it.”
Petulant and seeking the spotlight sounds like an accurate description of Mourinho, not just Pogba. Perhaps the player and manager are too much alike. But like David Beckham before and Cristiano Ronaldo after that, if United was to sell this player due to the perception they are bigger than the crest, it would be a mistake.
After United’s win on Wednesday over Bournemouth, former club great Paul Scholes claimed that Pogba could be sold this summer, having been one of those on the team when Beckham left.
“I think he could,” Scholes said on BT Sport. “From the outside looking in, it looks like the relationship isn’t great.”
Scholes also described Pogba’s poor performance against West Bromwich Albion, the defeat that guaranteed derby rivals Manchester City the Premier League title, as “disrespectful” to his manager.
“I don’t agree. I agree it wasn’t a good performance at all. With that I agree,” Mourinho countered when asked about the assessment by Scholes post-match.
Agree or not, Pogba was substituted by Mourinho after 55 minutes on a yellow card.
Pogba has now registered 10 assists in the Premier League this season. Not bad for a flop. pic.twitter.com/pZ4h3V2VLm
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 18, 2018
The issue with Pogba has been consistency, or lack thereof. Man-of-the-match performances against Manchester City and Bournemouth were sandwiched by a brutal showing in the 1-0 defeat to West Brom.
As inconsistent as Pogba’s play has been, his treatment has been up and down. The Frenchman used to be the first name on the team sheet. Now Mourinho is hauling him out of games that can still be won and leaving him on the bench in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. That is not a sign from the manager to the player that he has confidence in him.
The problem is Mourinho is treating Pogba like every other player and he frankly isn’t. Mourinho has had famous falling outs with stars before and his greatest managerial conundrum is treating unique players different than everyone else he wants to fit in to his system.
Jose has turned Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia from adventurous wingers to responsible outside backs. He turned Ander Herrera from an influential No. 8 to a man marker. Mourinho has a talent of convincing players to adapt their game to not what is necessarily good for them but good for the team. If they can do a specific job, he rewards them with his trust. However, what he’s asking Pogba to do is not good for him, and is, thus, not good for the team.
Pogba is being asked to do things he’s not capable of doing. He can’t be a sitting midfielder. Last time they played Tottenham, Pogba was in a midfield two with Nemanja Matic and it was a disaster. Instead of using Matic as the example of how Pogba should play, you should allow Matic to give him the cover to roam. Pogba is one of the faces of Adidas‘s “Here To Create” campaign for a reason, because with his hair, his fashion and his game, that is what he does.
How many United players can get on the end of a pass, run 60 yards, surge past defenders and put the final ball on a plate for the striker like Pogba did to put United ahead 2-0 on Wednesday? How many players in all of Europe can do it with such ease? Surging box to box, he has the quality to make the final pass or have a go and score himself. Pogba elevated the game in the Manchester derby after the break, scoring two goals minutes from each other out of nothing.
Of his performance against City, Mourinho said, “top performance. He can do it.” Now, you just have to allow him to do so before you are down by multiple goals.
Allow Pogba to be a free spirit the way he was for Juventus and is for France. With Pogba, you can’t suppress his natural talents to make sure he’s goalside at the very moment you give up possession. He lacks discipline in that regard, but he’s a match winner.
If United wants to challenge Man City, then Matic, Herrera and Marouane Fellani in midfield won’t get it done. The Red Devils won’t be able to catch City, nevermind the best of the rest in Europe without a player like Pogba. The fact almost every major club would be interested in Pogba if he was made available is a sign he shouldn’t be sold, even if he hasn’t yet reached his potential.
Together at Manchester United, they’ve won a Europa League and a League Cup. An FA Cup would make it three major trophies, which is an accomplishment despite the lack of success in the Premier League. Adding to the trophy cabinet at Old Trafford with Pogba in the side might be enough to dispel the transfer rumours.
Mourinho, it’s not about winning the Mourinho way. It’s just about winning. Pogba is a match winner. Allow him to go win your games.