All does not appear to be well at Manchester United between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba.
All is not well at Manchester United. And all is really not well between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba.
The two key figures at Old Trafford have continued to butt heads, with their relationship appearing to unravel at an increasing pace. The latest evidence was a training ground confrontation Wednesday in which Pogba stares at Mourinho in disbelief, before Mourinho calls a member of the club's staff over for a three-person discussion. It came a day after Manchester United was dumped out of the League Cup in the third round by Derby County–managed by Mourinho's former player, Frank Lampard–and off the heels of a draw vs. Wolves in the Premier League after which Pogba appeared to criticize Mourinho's tactics.
Over the winter, Pogba's agent, Mino Raiola, tried to orchestrate a move for the Frenchman away from Manchester United, and with everything that has transpired since, you can be sure Raiola will be working the phones again to try and move the World Cup winner to a more palatable destination. But how did things get to this point?
Here's a look at the Mourinho-Pogba dynamic and how things have devolved:
It wasn't always like this. Pogba was bought in August 2016 for a then-world-record £89 million, returning to Manchester United, where he began his professional career. Through the highs and lows of his performances–and the inconsistency is the root of Pogba's complicated place at Man United–Mourinho had Pogba's back, lauding his character, proclaiming he could be a future captain of the club and accusing his critics of being jealous because of how much Pogba earns. While the first season on the field was uneven, the relationship between the two, at least front-facing, seemed O.K.
Mourinho is reportedly unhappy that Pogba elected to rehab a hamstring injury in Miami as opposed to remaining in Manchester to do so.
Things started to turn for the worse, at least publicly, here. Pogba and Mourinho engaged in a sideline dispute in a loss to Tottenham, in which Pogba was pulled off just after the hour mark. He was benched for a subsequent win over Huddersfield and then was started–and subbed off again–in another loss to Newcastle.
SI's Grant Wahl reported that Raiola had been offering Pogba up to big clubs in Europe, attempting to free him from Manchester United and Mourinho and indicating that Pogba wanted out.
Pogba was left out of Man United's Champions League lineup vs. Sevilla (only to be subbed on for an injured Ander Herrera), sparking further speculation of a rift between the star and his manager.
Reports suggest that Pogba and Mourinho are barely talking.
Pep Guardiola reveals that he and Man City were offered Pogba by Raiola. How a crosstown transfer would've ever transpired is another story entirely, but the revelation showed more cracks in the foundation. Wahl also reports that Real Madrid was another one of the teams that was offered Pogba but had no interest in making a move.
Perhaps fueled by the situation, Pogba, the day after Guardiola's comments, scores twice to lead Man United's sensational comeback from 2-0 down to beat Man City and postpone the club's eventual title celebrations.
Pogba helps lead France to the World Cup title, turning in a fantastic performance in the final, which included him scoring the eventual game-winning goal in a 4-2 win over Croatia. Mourinho observes that the World Cup is a perfect forum for Pogba–a quick-moving, month-long competition with no room for distraction.
"I think the World Cup is the perfect habitat for a player like him to give [their] best," Mourinho told ESPN FC. "Why? Because it's closed for a month, where he can only think about football. Where he's with his team on the training camp, completely isolated from the external world, where they focus just on football, where the dimensions of the game can only motivate. During a season, you can have a big match then a smaller match, then one even smaller, then you can lose your focus, you can lose your concentration, then comes a big match again."
Two years removed from Pogba's return to Man United, Mourinho claims he's never been happier with Pogba following the club's season-opening win over Leicester City.
“The truth is we are together for two years and a couple of weeks and I’ve never been so happy with him as I am now, that’s the truth,” Mourinho said. “I cannot demand more from him, I cannot ask more from him, he came here on a Monday [last week], trained three days – I asked for his support for his contribution in an important match for us when the team had difficulties.
“He did it better [than I hoped] and for more time than we could expect [before being substituted]. When he says he did it for the fans and for the team that is exactly what I want, exactly what I demand from my players. He’s working well, playing well, he does it for the fans, he does it for the team and that’s what I want, to play for the team and I couldn’t be happier than what I am.”
Save for Pogba's glowing performance in the club's Champions League opener vs. Young Boys, it's been a rough month, particularly in the last few days. Pogba took to Twitter to insist things were being blown out of proportion when he wished Man United would attack more in the aftermath of the draw vs. Wolves. But it was followed by Mourinho stripping him of the vice captaincy and reportedly telling him he'd never captain the club again as long as both are there. Then came Tuesday's penalty-kick ouster vs. Derby County–for which Pogba was a spectator–and Wednesday's subsquent training session.
What's next? If the last week is any indication, the roller coaster ride isn't close to being over, and Saturday's match at West Ham should be quite telling.