You get the feeling that, given the choice, Jose Mourinho would be quite happy to sell Paul Pogba to Barcelona. Not because he doesn’t see the French midfielder’s ability, who could miss something so obvious, but because his profile is obstructive to him becoming the sort of Manchester United manager he wants to be. Autocratic, all-powerful.
At the root of their relationship seems to be distrust. Pogba, who is supposedly now eager to move to Spain, evidently doesn’t believe that Mourinho will ever allow him to become the expressive, three-dimensional force that he’s capable of being. For Mourinho, the suspicion is harder to understand. The obvious conclusion is that Pogba challenges his belief as to what a football team should be; the Portuguese wants components, puppets on strings, not virtuosos.
Perhaps Pogba’s profile at the club is also an issue for him and helps to explain why, when it hasn’t been necessary, Mourinho has often directed so much negativity towards the player. Arguably, Pogba is more Manchester United than Mourinho – he is the modern face of the club, he is one of the dynamos within the commercial strategy and, most likely, that’s something which does not sit well with the Portuguese. To add an extra layer of mischief, nor probably does the player’s popularity with the supporters – if Manchester United had to give up one or the other, it would be Mourinho packing his bags.
Two days is probably too little time for Barcelona to conclude a deal of this size, but the aftermath to this episode promises to be fascinating – even if nothing happens. Pogba’s original transfer from Juventus remains one of Ed Woodward’s better moments as chief executive, so to see the same player leave for a loss, especially given his status in the game and after not having seen anything like his best, would be a serious mark against his reputation. But for Mourinho that isn’t a concern – at least, his emphasis has always been on achievement and less on the aesthetics of that success. If he’s able to have a good season, then the detail within that and the players who help to shape it are incidental. That’s been proven time and again in the past; how many stars of the game has he cheerfully jettisoned in pursuit of an overall objective?
The effect here is this strange situation in which a club and a manager have opposing viewpoints on a player, but for entirely different reasons. What kind of atmosphere that creates at Old Trafford beyond this week and what impact it has one the Mourinho-Woodward relationship might also prove a pivotal sub-plot in Manchester United’s season.