Drama is never too far from Jose Mourinho. That’s why it was easy to believe he had fallen out with Paul Pogba following a heated discussion on the touchline during Manchester United’s defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur, leading to the player’s apparent desire to leave Old Trafford.
Pogba was dropped for United’s next game against Huddersfield, in favour of Scott McTominay, before being substituted in United’s loss against Newcastle.
It didn’t take long for rumours to start circulating that Pogba was unhappy at the club and was set to sign for Real Madrid.
Mourinho was questioned about this story during his Friday press conference and gave the journalists present a piece of his mind. He accused them of writing “lies and bullsh*t” and insisted the only issue with Pogba was his recent form, not any personal falling out.
It’s no secret that Pogba plays better in a 4-3-3 but Mourinho has persisted with a 4-2-3-1 for most of the season. This has seen Pogba largely play well but without settling the world alight.
When Mourinho was pressed on this, he claimed in the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle he had played a 4-3-3, with Pogba and Jesse Lingard sandwiching Nemanja Matic. If that’s true, none of his midfield players showed any discipline, as they certainly didn’t hold the shape of a three-man midfield. It was an odd claim from the manager.
Despite Mourinho’s protests, the speculation only gained momentum on Saturday afternoon, with Pogba ruling himself out of the Huddersfield game with illness, before Mourinho claimed he “didn’t care” about Pogba, with his attention solely on the players available to play.
While it’s easy to see why some people are reaching the conclusions they are over the relationship between player and manager, it’s more likely a case of adding two and two, but getting five.
United played Saturday’s cup game as a 4-3-3, a clear sign that Mourinho wasn’t going to stubbornly persist with an alternative formation that didn’t bring out the best in Pogba. Illness meant that the Frenchman couldn’t enjoy the change but Mourinho had shown willing nevertheless, working on this formation before learning Pogba was unavailable to play.
Stranger things have happened but it’s far-fetched to suggest that Pogba is ready to give up on United after just two years back in Manchester.
He won two trophies in his first season, scoring in the Europa League final, and now finds his team second in the table and competing for two trophies. The return to the Champions League was key and he gets to play for a manager who has won the competition twice with two different clubs.
Real Madrid are the go-to team when transfer rumours about supposedly unhappy players are invented. But it’s worth remembering that Mino Raiola has repeatedly criticised the Spanish giants in the press. He claimed in 2016 that Pogba wasn’t interested in signing for a club who treat players like Real Madrid do.
“Madrid buy players the way some people buy bath towels and then throw aside,” Raiola has also said.
Additionally, he mocked them for buying James Rodriguez on the back of six good games in the World Cup.
Florentino Perez has never signed a Raiola player and there’s nothing to suggest he’s in any rush to do so now. Having to pay a fortune to an agent who has repeatedly slagged off their club wouldn’t sit well with them. The transfer fee and wage demands of Pogba wouldn’t appeal either.
Mourinho may well have torn a strip off Pogba following his performance at St James Park, but to suggest that has sparked a rift that is impossible to resolve is ridiculous.
The Frenchman has had a good season for United so far, even if not yet reaching the dominating heights of his time in Serie A, but Mourinho’s willingness to change his formation to accommodate Pogba’s strengths suggests we might see even better performances from the midfielder following a disappointing month on the field for him. But Pogba will be a United player next season and it’s clutching at straws to suggest otherwise.