Pogba’s ‘loud music’ and ‘frosty’ exchange with Mourinho mask Man United’s real problems
In the aftermath of an undercooked Manchester United display, a more frequent occurrence these days, behold the art of misdirection
Look here: Paul Pogba played loud music on the top deck of the team bus ahead of the home draw with Wolves on Saturday.
Or here: There was a ‘frosty’ exchange between the midfielder and the manager in training.
But wait, there’s more:
How has the squad reacted to the World Cup winner being stripped of the vice-captaincy?
Is Alexis Sanchez in decline?
Is Romelu Lukaku’s poor finishing the crux of the club’s problems?
How much of a t*at is that Mino Raiola, eh?
Just whatever you do following United’s League Cup exit on penalties by Derby County, do not observe United ceding their fear factor at Old Trafford, stay clear from questioning whether their recruitment policy extends far beyond 'sign expensive, established top player', ignore wondering if there is any cohesion in thought process at the club and refrain from assessing just what the Red Devils’ on-pitch identity is.
Mourinho’s men have hosted four games this season and have won once: the Premier League opener against Leicester City, who managed more total shots and possession than them.
United then played arguably their best half of football this season - the first 45 - against Tottenham, yet still lost 3-0.
They were second best to an energetic, aggressive Wolves on Saturday and were fortunate to draw, before repeating the trick against Frank Lampard’s side, who should have wrapped up victory before the shootout.
Teams are clearly not apprehensive about going to Old Trafford anymore, a ground where they now plan to impose themselves.
After all, if it doesn’t look like Manchester United, feel like Manchester United or play like Manchester United, is it really Manchester United?
In a financial sense given record revenues of £590m - don’t dare forget that 4.9 rating of the club’s app on the Apple store - they are still a behemoth or as Ed Woodward, their executive vice-chairman put it, “the biggest sports team in the world.”
But on the pitch, they are so removed from the authoritative, entertaining, almost indomitable United of old.
If the League Cup and Europa League trophies - landed against Southampton and Ajax respectively in 2016-17 - are wheeled out as a defence to that statement, well…
But, whose fault is it anyway?
Pogba is now the scapegoat-in-chief, but how are United annoyed by his flamboyance when they’ve been so happy to capitalise on that very image?
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) September 26, 2018
What of the behaviour of him and Raiola pushing for a transfer to Barcelona? Not ideal or tolerable, of course, but definitely not surprising to the club - they knew exactly what they were getting into.
Earlier this week, it was the non-performances of Alexis that took centre-stage.
Securing Sanchez ahead of Manchester City was likened to picking an orange from the top of a tree by Mourinho - “so nice and so round and so full of juice” - but the Chilean, like so many others at United seem all squeezed out: a hologram of themselves.
It’s harder to highlight standout performers than those who seem out of place.
The 'where would Manchester United be without David de Gea?' question incredibly deserves an 'and Plan A,B,C Marouane Fellaini!' extension.
Now that's football, bloody hell.
There is obvious mistrust in terms of recruitment, evidenced in the summer with the briefings that Mourinho’s wishlist was vetoed on account of the targets being short-term fixes.
But it was United that hired a manager who can point to silverware, but not longevity nor legacy.
There has been friction too on which stars to keep or cull, as seen with Anthony Martial’s contract offer.
Such muddled thinking behind the scenes unsurprisingly doesn’t encourage clarity of identity.
Trying to pin all the evils on just Pogba, or Mourinho, or Woodward, or Sanchez or any other individual betrays the truth that the club are collectively dysfunctional on the football side because there are so many dividing interests at play.
If there is no unity of direction off the pitch, there can be none on it.
Retired player Liam Rosenior, who is part of the coaching staff at Brighton and is a United fan, summed up matters superbly on Sky Sports. “The recipe and ingredients are wrong,” he said.
“I don’t see a way of playing there, I see a team that’s wide open without the ball and disjointed with the ball and the personnel doesn’t seem to matter.”
Rosenior admitted it was neither easy nor fun to watch this counterfeit version of the club, and he will be in the company of millions worldwide with that sentiment.
The misdirection, though, that’s where the entertainment of this United is at.