Jose Mourinho challenges Paul Pogba to raise his game and help drive Manchester United like he did with France


Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has issued a challenge to Paul Pogba ahead of the new Premier League season. This summer, despite criticism from pundits ahead and during the early stages of the FIFA World Cup, Pogba was playing some good football for Didier Deschamps, laying on the pass to Antoine Griezmann when he won a penalty against Australia, scoring late in the game to win the match, despite the deflection and leading his team, both on the pitch and in the dressing room, also scoring in the World Cup final, helping France lift the trophy 20 years after the last time.

It was something we had never seen before. Not from Pogba at United. It is fair to say that the £89 million signing has not played his best football at United consistently since returning to the club from Juventus in the summer of 2016 but we have seen his potential at times. An example of this was against Manchester City in April when United were 2-0 down at half-time and Pogba, like a bat out of hell, inspired his club to win the match by scoring a brace, leading to Chris Smalling’s winner, delaying City’s title-winning celebrations for another week.

That is the Pogba that United supporters would like to see more of on a weekly basis, but that has been a problem. There have been suggestions that Mourinho and Pogba were in the middle of a battle against each other, despite both playing down the speculation which has been rife in the media throughout the last few months of the season and into the summer. Despite suggesting the problems had been solved, it does not stop the media from suggesting there is a problem again. They always seem to reports negatives when it comes to United, yet do not respond in the same manner for other clubs.

It is no secret that Mourinho has demanded more consistency from Pogba, especially last season but the Portuguese manager feels that the Frenchman’s form in the World Cup this summer was found which after a suitable break from the game, could see him start the new season with more hunger to succeed. Speaking to ESPN FC during the clubs pre-season tour of the United States of America, with Pogba being one of the absent players due to the World Cup, Mourinho said:

“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.

“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.

“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.

“In the World Cup, the direction of the emotion, of the responsibility, of the big decisions is always growing up.

“You are in the group phase, you go to the last 16, to the quarter-finals, to the semi-finals, to the finals. This feeds the motivation. This feeds the concentration of a player.

“So I think it was the perfect environment for him.”

Last summer, Mourinho signed Nemanja Matic from Chelsea for £40 million, also signing Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk for a reported £47 million earlier this summer. Many will suggest that United have spent not only £89 million on Pogba but also a further £87 million in order to unlock Pogba’s potential. Each to their own, I don’t think this is what United have done. Michael Carrick was never going to play many matches last season, even before his health issue to Matic’s arrive was a no-brainer. Fred was brought in this summer to replace Carrick in the squad, not necessarily his role.

United’s midfield, despite having a number of players in that area, was not the strongest, especially when it came to depth. When Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, and Ander Herrera were all injured at the same time last season, Mourinho had to factor in Scott McTominay, who partnered Matic in midfield in his standout season at the club. If Andreas Pereira had not forced a loan move, he would have had a lot of minutes on the pitch. He may have even been able to put himself ahead of Pogba, looking back with hindsight.

Mourinho has stated that it is not a case of United having to get the best out of Pogba but Pogba giving the club the best he has. We have all seen what he is capable of, especially during the summer. The fact that Pogba will not have a pre-season with United this summer could be problematic but could also be a good thing. Winning the World Cup is something that will have awoken the hunger which may have been dormant in a player. Pogba should be striving to ensure he gives United his best, which in turn could see United earn plaudits again, even compete with rivals for trophies and the important league title.

The United manager went into more detail about how he thinks players feel when they represent their country, especially in a tournament such as the World Cup. There will be an immense amount of pride to be picked to play international football for your country, which in turn will get you that extra va-va-voom to go all the way and do the country proud. Pogba seemed to do everything he could in order to win the tournament in Russia this summer and in a way, he will have no excuse if he falters again for United this coming season. Mourinho said:

“I think players in the World Cup, they really feel that extra commitment with a country, with the people, that extra responsibility that makes them – by the emotional point of view – to be sometimes even over-committed.

“So they play for the team, and only for the team, and the team is the most important thing, and they do everything to try to succeed.

“So I think it’s the perfect environment for a talented player like him to focus, to fully focus on the job.”

Pogba is a talented player. He was also able to inspire his team at the World Cup with videos emerging from the dressing room of the 25-year-old giving a team talk, which may or may not have helped the team reach the final and win the World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium just over a week ago. In order for Pogba to continue his career, heading in the right direction, the player will need to rise to the challenge that has been set for him. It is important for him to become the player he returned to Manchester United to be, the player that wanted the chance to replace Paul Scholes before he left the club in 2012.

Pundits like Graeme Souness, who seems to have a keen dislike for Pogba, will continue to moan and regurgitate bias if the Frenchman continues to be the bit-part player at United this coming season. Whilst Mourinho has suggested that the seven United players who participated in the last four of the World Cup will probably miss the start of the new Premier League season, the ability to hit the ground running will be much-needed as United seek to start in good stead and build the momentum from the offset. Pogba coming back and performing would be welcome, for everyone other than Souness, anyway!

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