Paul Pogba against Jose Mourinho is a thoroughly modern saga. It’s so typical of contemporary football, in fact, that it’s completely unremarkable. Any dispassionate perspective on it would also conclude that both parties are really to blame and that each has had ample opportunity to apply the brakes on their saga.
Saturday’s defeat to West Ham proved this: Mourinho was almost certainly being antagonistic when he substituted the midfielder in the second-half at London Stadium, but Pogba had been listless and ineffective, looking untroubled by the predicament he and his teammates found themselves within. Sometimes, he doesn’t help himself.
According to recent reports, the player’s future will also be the subject of a November meeting between the club and his agent, Mino Raiola. That does at least promise a resolution, but it’s bizarre that this situation should command such low priority. Two more months of this, after all, could potentially do irreparable damage to Manchester United’s season. In the broader sense, these are two extremely valuable employees who wield significant power. Their falling out may not be a “crisis” in the tabloid sense, but it is still a significant negative which should demand immediate attention.
Stranger still, though, is that Mourinho’s relationship with his record signing doesn’t appear to be being managed from above. While it’s true that United are no longer a purely sporting enterprise and that the first-team often appears to exist in a vacuum, events on the pitch (and in this case off it) still have a profound effect on the image of the club and its saleability. For all intents and purposes, the state of United’s organisation is as it currently appears on the nation’s back pages and, for obvious reasons, that can’t be desirable.
The natural rebuttal to that is to claim that all is fair in this land of clicks and attention. United are dependent on coverage and, so long as they remain in steady rotation within the news cycle, the tone of that reporting is ultimately incidental. It’s a plausible theory, but it’s so obviously flawed – in spite of their size, super clubs remain highly sensitive and, in a few cases, almost obsessive in their attempts to control what’s written about them.
And yet, in spite of its toxicity, Pogba versus Mourinho continues to spread. Where are the faux conciliatory gestures, where is the public relations control? The first sign of friction between these two should have sent a sharp-suited, heavily hair-gelled executive scurrying to Carrington and yet, at the time of writing, they remain free to make their barbed comments in public and to trade snide remarks in the media.
Oddly, it doesn’t really impact on either of their reputations – or at least it doesn’t really reveal anything which wasn’t already known. Both are strong personalities, both have large egos, both are capable of falling out with people. For United, though, it betrays a troubling lack of control and, as has been suspected for some time, a genuine lack of sporting structure.
Understandably, there is now clamour for Mourinho’s departure. His team are poor, they show no real signs of improvement and offer almost no basis for enthusiasm. Change for change’s sake is not always the best way forward, but you can forgive those who want nothing more than just a different set of optics and a lighter mood.
If a sacking is the answer though, it must be accompanied by the kind of macro renovation which allows it to be. Yes, United do need a change, but isolating focus to just a single club department is what allowed them to regress into this situation in the first place.
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