For two-and-a-half years at Manchester United, there was a polarizing debate which divided the entire fanbase: Team Jose Mourinho vs Team Paul Pogba.
To some, the outspoken Portuguese manager was the one who deserved ultimate authority over all of the issues at the club in order to reinforce his power over the squad. For others, Pogba deserved freedom and the license to indulge in his hobbies away from the game in order to be happy on the pitch.
In an ideal world, Mourinho would have got what he asked for and Pogba would have been granted such a privilege, a token of trust from his boss in recognition of the world-class ability he brought to the team.
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Neither of those things happened, with Mourinho’s wishes often overlooked and Pogba rarely delivering talismanic performances on the pitch to earn such treatment.
“He gave me energy, he gave me positivity,” said Pogba of Mourinho upon re-signing for United in 2016. “They all told me he’s the coach for me – he will make me improve a lot and make me work harder.”
The signs were certainly promising, with the duo working together to deliver three trophies in their first season together at Old Trafford, but soon the cracks would begin to show.
The release of Pogba’s self-indulgent documentary this week prompted more of the criticism he received plenty of during his time at Old Trafford, with the Frenchman remembered just as much for his off-field antics as he was for his performances on it.
For many, Pogba was viewed as a scapegoat because of a lifestyle that saw him indulge in his own personal brand, but any criticism of him as a player was justified given how poorly he performed after arriving at United for a then-world-record fee .
One of those critics was Mourinho. Back in the summer of 2018, he hit out at Pogba for a lack of ‘focus’ at United, stating he was down to the World Cup winner to transfer his international form to club level, rather than it being United’s duty to get the best from him.
“I don’t think it’s about us getting the best out of him, it’s about him giving the best he has to give,” Mourinho stated. “I think the World Cup is the perfect habitat for a player like him to give [their] best.
“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.”
Victory at the World Cup only further empowered the player in this fractured relationship, with some at Carrington referring to Pogba as ‘The King’ following his triumphant return.
“His ego changed dramatically,” a United source said of Pogba’s return after international success in Russia. Another noted Mourinho and his staff were “f—-d” as United would deify their new world champion.
In September 2018, Mourinho told Pogba he would never captain the side again and he was stripped of the vice-captaincy role because of concerns about his attitude. The Portuguese was sacked three months later after a run of poor results.
Pogba didn’t help his own case when he revealed in Mourinho’s sacking on Twitter with the infamous “Caption this” tweet and it was an even worse look when he miraculously regained phenomenal form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, assisting two goals in a 5-1 thrashing of Cardiff in his first game in charge.
The release of his ‘Pogmentary’ this week has done him no favors in silencing those critics and has only further emphasized his reputation as a brand who also plays football.
“Pogba is something we built,” Rafaela Pimenta, the lawyer who has been handling the Frenchman’s affairs since Mino Raiola’s death, says in one scene. “It’s a brand. It has emojis, it has Pogmojis, it has cups. He has shows, he has haircuts and we hope to entertain people with that.”
It is ironic that those same criticisms of Pogba can also be thrown at United in the last few years, with the club seemingly more concerned with commercialism than sporting success.
In that case, Pogba is by no means the only one at fault here, and United must take a large portion of the blame for siding with their poster boy rather than with their former manager.
If they really are to put things right with their latest cultural reset, then a divorce from Pogba was needed, no matter how sour it might become, and United must once again prove they are fundamentally a football club rather than a global brand.
United are still paying the price for saying ‘no way, Jose.’