Beware of the Pog!

JOSE MOURINHO needs Manchester United more than United need him. This has been the case ever since the distance between United and City came to be measured by GPS. But it doesn't look as if Paul Pogba needs either.

The Frenchman's no-show at Huddersfield bore all the hallmarks of a "get-me-out-of-here" strop.

Mourinho's response when asked about a player on whom he lavished a world record fee 18 months ago was, "I don't know and I don't care".

You don't need to be an "Einstein" – as he once mocked reporters – to know that all is not well in the United camp. The club have still to identify the "mystery illness" but are perhaps hoping it's a virus as they could soon be selling him to Real Madrid.

Deep into his second season, Mourinho is not only struggling for silverware, he's having trouble keeping his house in order.

The League has long gone, there is still no discernible style of play and Old Trafford is like a morgue. The question must be asked: will Pogba's strop be the one that ultimately breaks the camel's back?

Hopes were raised that the unexpected arrival of Alexis Sanchez would be the panacea. But those who could hardly believe their luck last month are already having second thoughts.

There's no doubting the Chilean's quality, and he could just be knackered: no one has played more football than he has – non-stop for seven years.

He's still finding his feet and lacks a provider alongside. Say what you like about Arsenal, but they had no shortage of midfielders for him to feed off.

This is where Pogba comes in – or eventually stomps out. Having to play deeper to accommodate Sanchez, the poor lamb's nose was put further out of joint by the Chilean's salary – over a £100,000 (RM550,000) a week more than he's getting.

No longer allowed to preen in his preferred role on the left of a midfield three, he now finds his creativity stymied. And the drudgery of defence is, of course, beneath him. All in all, his return to Old Trafford has not worked out the way the brochure suggested.

But his frustration only mirrors that which many United fans have with him. They can see the talent but are treated to tantalisingly rare glimpses – as with buffering on a bad wifi connection. And there are still those who maintain that he wasn't wanted by Mourinho in the first place – just a statement signing by Ed Woodward and the Glazers.

To be fair to the Portuguese, buying Matic looked like a solution – and Pogba did turn glimpses into cameos. But while Matic held his hand Sanchez is treading on his toes.

Sanchez is too good not to shine but his acquisition only adds to the feeling that United are a side of expensive parts thrown together with little thought to how they'll fit.

Although United boast, if that is the word, the stingiest defensive record in the division, Pogba sometimes sees behind him familiar faces from his first stint as a junior – a back five all signed by Alex Ferguson!

Yet £600 million (RM3.3b) has somehow been spent since the old man left.

Mourinho's judgment of players comes under the closest scrutiny with a couple he let go. And it is his a*se luck that where they are never ceasing to remind him is at the clubs United fans most despise.

Having offloaded Mo Salah and Kevin de Bruyne for a combined £34 million (RM187m) in his second stint at Chelsea, he is acutely aware the Player of the Year award is between those two.

And a further twist of the knife is that it should be Pep Guardiola, of all people, who has nurtured such a fine vintage out of De Bruyne when Mourinho saw only table plonk.

As for the fare itself, the football is only marginally more palatable than Louis van Gaal's side dishes – still tasteless and all while those same rivals are serving up banquets.

It just adds to the feeling that the United job itself may be too big for the erstwhile Special One's visibly fading powers.

And it could get worse – the once-unimaginable prospect of forming a guard of honour to crown City as champions in early April looms.

United go to Seville tomorrow still in the Champions League and have a favourable draw in the FA Cup. The latter trophy is still not out of the question but for Pogba the project is not working out. He can do better on the continent and there will be no shortage of clubs who want him.

His agent Mino Raiola won't be shy about making another £40 million (RM220m) cut either. Indeed, is it being too conspiratorial to think that this agent provocateur that Fergie hated so much, put him up to it?

If Pogba were to leave it would be a damning failure on Mourinho's part – no matter how he dressed it up. Even if he wasn't his choice, Pogba has enough talent to have been used a lot better. Such as when he was the fulcrum of Juventus's three-times Serie A winners.

Mourinho is said to have been promised another £300 million (RM1.65b) this summer in exchange for agreeing to stay for another year. But with Spurs, Liverpool and City all set to get even stronger, United may slip further down the pecking order.

The manager needs to win the Premier League or the Champions League to protect his legacy. He undid what he achieved at Chelsea in five months.
Here, it is taking longer – but failure to land either would show that he may really be past his use-by date.

Last year, UEFA rated him one of the 10 greatest coaches of all time. No one can take away what he's already achieved elsewhere, but just two lesser pots at a club of this size and this budget, would severely tarnish his legacy. Next time they do the rating, he may lose his place: unaccountably missing from the top 10 was Guardiola.

*Bob's latest book, Living the Dream, is on sale at Borders, MPH, Popular, Kinokuniya and Gerakbudaya book stores.*


They prop up League One but they held Spurs on merit. The team that drew with mighty Juventus found tiny Rochdale arguably more difficult opponents on the night. The underdogs were magnificent and thoroughly deserve their day at Wembley, takings for which will keep them going for 3 more years. It's what the FA Cup is all about – and made the case for replays to stay.

Dele Alli
A regular in this section, we make no apologies for another mention. Yes, Dele Alli has quite a reputation but with his team facing an unwanted replay against League One minnows, he wasn't going to let more flak dissuade him. So when the chance came, he "made the most of it," as Rochdale boss Keith Hill diplomatically put it. From this vantage point, it was still a dive.

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Curling dope
Sportsmen take drugs to help them run, jump and throw but sweep the floor? Well, in Russia, it seems drugs are so endemic that even a curler has been found guilty of doping! Alexander Krushnelnitsky has been formally charged at the Winter Olympics for the banned substance meldonium. Sounds like the national dish – it was the same stuff that got Maria Sharapova banned. Faster, higher, stronger and a cleaner floor ...