Jose Mourinho tries to take heat off Paul Pogba as Sevilla stand in United’s way
The French midfielder is set for a return to the Red Devils’ starting XI.
Jose Mourinho took the pressure off Paul Pogba ahead of his Manchester United return by saying a huge price tag does not bring extra responsibility.
Even for a player so used to being in the spotlight, the France international may have squirmed at recent scrutiny about his form and happiness at Old Trafford.
Mourinho last week admitted Pogba’s form had dropped but angrily dismissed “lies” suggesting a fractured relationship with the midfielder, who would have started Saturday’s FA Cup win at Huddersfield but for illness.
The 24-year-old has recovered in time for Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg at Sevilla, where suggestions that this was the kind of stage where the club-record signing should prove his worth did not sit well.
"I think the responsibility is for everyone" - Jose Mourinho when asked if the Champions League is the kind of stage where record signing Paul Pogba should prove his worth pic.twitter.com/s7HnDMjSGS— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) February 20, 2018
“I don’t think it’s fair to speak about the responsibilities of a player,” Mourinho said.
“I don’t even like the fact that the player that cost X millions doesn’t have the same responsibility as the player that cost three times X.
“I think the responsibility is for everyone, so I don’t like that kind of approach. I understand for you (the media), but not for me.
“When I decide a team to play, I don’t look to the age, I don’t look to the salary, I don’t look to the transfer fee, because I think that’s not also fair.”
"There is a long way to go," Jose says. “We have to focus on the very difficult opponent [Sevilla] and the first match of this two-legged knockout tie – a match that doesn’t decide anything – but is very important.” #MUFC— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 20, 2018
Mourinho indicated that Pogba is fit to start in Spain after taking a full part in training on the eve of the game, when the United boss took the unusual step to move the open part of the session to show him in competitive action.
“Well, I open the training session today and I open in a period where normally don’t open,” Mourinho said of the 15 minutes of training that UEFA make clubs open up to the media.
“We normally do it in the warming up and in the first simple drills of the training session, and this time we did it for quite a long time and in the last period, so we could see the players in a competitive situation.
“When a player is in that competitive situation, it is because the players are normally ready and without problems.
“So, you could see that in training some people that didn’t play against Huddersfield with problems, like Pogba, (Antonio) Valencia, (Marcus) Rashford, (Ander) Herrera.
“So, I think in an objective way you could look at it.”
The returning outfield quartet travelled with the squad to Andalusia, as did goalkeeper David De Gea after being rested at Huddersfield.
Jose: “[Sevilla] can be nice to us and say we are favourites. But I prefer to say they have a good mentality for the knockout stages. They enjoyed the Europa League and now they have the chance to play in the biggest competition of all, so the motivation is even bigger.” #MUFC— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 20, 2018
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jones remain absent for the last-16 encounter – the final hurdle before Mourinho starts dreaming of Champions League glory.
“I won with Porto when Porto was a very young team, a very inexperienced team at this level, with so many players playing Champions League for the first time in their careers,” the two-time Champions League winner said.
“And then I won with Inter, which was exactly the opposite. It was a team with lots of players over 30, with great experience in high-level football but not successful until then.
“I think this squad is more in the middle of it. We have some players with previous experiences, we have some others without experience.
“But I think in the end, I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet.
“In the last 16, it still looks a long way to go.”