Stripping Paul Pogba of Manchester United vice captaincy feels like the final straw in fractured relationship with Jose Mourinho
Frenchman informed before United were dumped out of the League Cup by Derby he would no longer fill in for regular skipper Antonio Valencia
Well, that didn't last long.
Manchester United's mini revival of three wins following three successive defeats was followed up with an insipid draw at home to Wolves in the Premier League before being dumped out of the League Cup by second-tier Derby County on Tuesday. And even that required a Marouane Fellaini equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time to take the game to extra time, Derby eventually prevailing 8-7 on penalties.
Ordinarily, exiting a competition that Jose Mourinho has traditionally put plenty of stock in - the Portuguese shares the record for winning the most trophies as a manager alongside Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson - would create all the headlines, but it is the latest fallout with Paul Pogba that's making all the noise.
The Frenchman was informed on Tuesday that he had been stripped of the vice captaincy. The Times reported that Mourinho told Pogba in front of his teammates at the team's Carrington training ground that the 25-year-old "doesn't represent what a captain is and Manchester United is bigger than anyone". Mourinho confirmed the decision after the match but denied it was because of a fallout with the player.
"The only truth is that I made the decision that Paul will not be a second captain anymore but no fallout, no problems at all," he told reporters.
The trigger for the latest spat is linked to Pogba's comments following the 1-1 draw with Wolves at Old Trafford last Saturday, in which the midfielder criticised his team's defensive approach that were interpreted as a thinly-veiled dig at Mourinho.
"We are at home and we should play much better against Wolves. We are here to attack," Pogba said after the match. "I think teams are scared when they see Manchester United attacking and attacking. That was our mistake."
It was an honest assessment from a senior player, a World Cup winner no less, and Pogba took umbrage with the way they were reported. And they weren't even a million miles removed from his own manager's analysis - “Not creative enough, not sharp enough” - Mourinho's verdict.
Pogba has scored four times in seven games this season but, much as he did in his first two seasons after rejoining the club from Juventus for €105 million (Dh498.7m), continues to veer from ridiculously talented to frustratingly inconsistent. His cushioned pass for Fred's opener against Wolves was divine but he was at fault for giving the ball away that lef to Joao Moutinho's equaliser.
Pogba has kept his own counsel in the past rather than talk about this relationship with Mourinho, no doubt wary that his manager takes criticism about as well as a child takes being told "no" to more ice-cream. Stripping Pogba of a senior role in the team has grown a fracture in their relationship to a chasm. While largely a symbolic role - few fans would be able to tell you who their own team's vice captain is - Pogba, who did not play against Derby, has captained United in three of their eight games this season with regular skipper Antonio Valencia struggling for fitness and form. Having a World Cup winner to turn to for leadership on the field is a bonus for any manager, but Mourinho views any negative assessments of his team from inside or outside the dressing room as an affront to his credentials.
Pogba was linked with a move away from Old Trafford over the summer with Barcelona among his admirers. Following the latest public humiliation by his manager, it seems a parting of the ways - either Pogba leaving or Mourinho being sacked or removed - will be the final denouement in the protracted saga.
Updated: September 26, 2018 03:13 PM