The Factors Behind Paul Pogba and Manchester United's Relationship Breakdown
The friction between Manchester United's Paul Pogba and manager Jose Mourinho has become one of football's most intriguing storylines. And it is difficult to see both men surviving the season at the club.
The latest twist has left Pogba's character being scrutinised after he questioned Mourinho's tactics following a draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers and then tested his manager's patience further with an inflammatory Instagram post that led to a training-ground confrontation between the pair that has gained global focus.
The latest rift was sparked by a video the midfielder posted on social media after Tuesday's penalty-shootout defeat to Derby County, which featured him laughing with Luke Shaw and Andreas Pereira in the stands (h/t Joe Coleman of TalkSport). Jamie Jackson of the Guardian reported thereafter that the post went out later than it should have because of bad reception inside the stadium. However, tension remains.
Mourinho is willing to leave the training-ground incident in the past, but Pogba had already been told he will no longer be captain of the team when Antonio Valencia is not around. There is consequently a feeling that Pogba will attempt to force a January transfer, as sources told Bleacher Report the midfielder's temper is at a boiling point—and has been simmering since the turn of the year.
How Alexis Changed His Thinking
When Pogba rejoined from Juventus in 2016 for a then-world-record £89.3 million fee, he also became the club's highest-paid player, granted terms of £290,000 per week.
His return was declared #Pogback on the club's social media channels, and the player spoke of his emotions and how it was a "great feeling" to be in a red shirt again.
His first season ended in UEFA Europa League glory and a sixth-placed Premier League finish under Mourinho. The second season began brightly, as there were signs of the real Pogba's emergence. But injury and suspension broke up his campaign, and when Alexis Sanchez arrived in January, the France international became more unsettled.
Some reports suggested Sanchez earns £600,000 per week, but sources at United have since told B/R that he is, in fact, on par with Pogba in terms of a weekly wage.
Still, it rattled the midfielder's ego, as Sanchez's arrival also took attention away from Pogba as the team's main man.
As the weeks rolled by, he became increasingly frustrated by his restricted role within the team, and Sanchez's difficulties fitting into the setup did not help his cause.
This season, there have been signs of a power struggle. Against Leicester City, Pogba used his position at the club to put Sanchez in his place when the Chile international wanted to take a penalty. Pogba insisted he should take the kick, which he dispatched successfully.
The Role of Superagent Mino Raiola
Mino Raiola moved Pogba back to United in order to make him the club's star player and hoped it would propel him to a higher standing within the game.
But when he heard Sanchez would be joining United on an extortionate salary, he was quick to approach the club about whether it was true—making it clear that his client needed to be the top earner.
Raiola is one of the world's most powerful football brokers, but he has made enemies along the way and is not afraid to speak his mind. In former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson's 2015 book, Leading, he admitted "there are one or two football agents I simply do not like. And Mino Raiola, Paul Pogba's agent, is one of them."
Ferguson could not tolerate the way Raiola goes about business, and Mourinho is finding it difficult too.
With every quote and social media post that comes from Pogba, there becomes a sense that a bigger message is being conveyed. Perhaps his agent's attitude is rubbing off on the player. At times, it seems as though Pogba has been advised that certain words and actions can help him to get what he wants.
One example came at the beginning of September. While on international duty for France, Pogba told Sky Germany (h/t James Ducker of the Telegraph): "My future right now is with Manchester. I have a contract. Currently, I play there, but who knows what will happen in the next couple of months."
Maybe he was laying seeds for the fallout that was to follow because he's since been told he won't be captaining the side anymore and has pushed Mourinho to the brink with his behaviour on social media.
Raiola does not get on with Mourinho. And now, it seems, neither does his client.
Concerns with Mourinho's Style
There has been a long list of issues since Pogba returned to Old Trafford, and the spiral seemed to begin when he was substituted during a defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in January.
The pair were seen arguing on the touchline, with the gist seemingly over whether the player had followed instructions.
Pogba has always believed he needs freedom to roam in order to play at his highest level, but it is not a luxury he has experienced too often under Mourinho. And when Sanchez arrived on the scene, it became even more of an obvious issue.
It was after that transfer that Pogba struggled to complete 90 minutes for United and frustration began to build.
Pogba has wanted to dictate where he best fits into the side, but Mourinho had other ideas because he needed the player to fulfil a particular role in order to restore balance in the side.
It brought conflict and, in hindsight, can probably be viewed as the moment Pogba began to question whether he was going to remain at the club long term.
In February, when he was dropped to the bench for a UEFA Champions League match against Sevilla, Mourinho made his stance clear: Star-player status does not guarantee you a place in the side.
It's a mantra he has long held.
Sources at the time suggested Pogba wanted the system to change so that he could flourish on the left side of a midfield three—but he was not in a position to make such demands.
Mourinho has always wanted Pogba to understand why he was needed in a more reserved role and hoped in time that, with further signings, he might be able to let him off the leash more regularly.
However, the FIFA World Cup winner has not held that same vision.
Away from the Field
Despite everything we hear publicly about Pogba unsettling the United setup, his team-mates generally enjoy his company. He's a popular figure. It's a similar story for anyone who spends time with him away from the training ground. He has a reputation as a nice, fun guy.
One of the most regular digs at the player is that he spends too much time worrying about how his hair looks and not enough time focusing on his performances, yet his stylist, Ahmed Alsanawi of A-Star Barbers, told B/R that is not the case.
"Football is everything to Pogba," he explained at the end of last season. "I know that. Because he has a bad game, that means he can't look good? I don't think so. I have spoken to a lot of players about this issue, and they all told me the same thing: Having a good haircut gives you confidence."
Confidence is everything to Pogba, and if he is not feeling good, then it makes sense that he will not be on top of his game.
What Will It Take to Stay?
This situation will only become more complicated if goalkeeper David De Gea manages to agree new terms on a par with those of Pogba and Sanchez.
If the Frenchman is not the standout earner, focal point of the side or in the exact role he craves, then there is doubt over how much longer he will remain at the club.
Ducker reported in the Telegraph that Pogba told United he wanted to leave before this season began. There is little reason to believe the case is any different now.
But even if he does push for a transfer in January, it won't be as simple as just finding a new club to take him away.
There are only three sides that can realistically sign him, with Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain the only interested clubs with the budgets and statuses to satisfy his needs.
Whether any of those teams can put together a package that can convince United to sell Pogba remains uncertain—particularly as Ed Woodward, the club's executive vice-chairman, does not want the midfielder's signing to be looked back on as a flop.
Of the potential options available, a move to Juventus might have become possible if Miralem Pjanic or Paulo Dybala were to head the other way, yet sources in Italy say it's not an option.
It leaves moneybags PSG and Spanish champions Barcelona as the only two clubs who might pay the £100 million needed to take him away. But there are doubts in both countries over the potential for such a deal.
With Raiola pulling the strings, nothing can ever be ruled out. Yet a January transfer of such proportion seems hugely unlikely, and that means Pogba, Mourinho and United have to somehow find a solution without wrecking another season.
Pogba is a fun character and handles his fame well, but there is also an immaturity about him that some people struggle to accept. And Mourinho is one of them.
His talent is undoubted, and that's the reason he is at the club. Mourinho thought he had the ability to be the best all-around midfielder in the world, but the United boss wasn't adequately prepared for the other side of his nature.
It's that flamboyant yet carefree attitude that makes Pogba the intriguing character he is, and perhaps if Mourinho did leave United, Zinedine Zidane or Mauricio Pochettino could get more from him.
Fabrizio Romano recently reported in the Guardian that Raiola plans to meet with club officials in November to understand their stance on the situation. As it stands, United have no plan to part ways with Mourinho—and Pogba is in limbo.