Paul Pogba ignored the background noise to spearhead Manchester United to a remarkable comeback victory, saying it would have felt “like death” had Manchester City sealed the Premier League title with a home derby win.
Even for a player used to being in the spotlight, the scrutiny must have felt intense in the lead up to Saturday evening’s eagerly-anticipated Etihad Stadium encounter.
City manager Pep Guardiola claimed on the eve of the game that Pogba was offered to the Premier League leaders by his agent in January – a claim denied by Mino Raiola.
The midfielder posted ‘say what?’ on social media soon after the City manager’s comments were published and then before kick-off was criticised by United great Gary Neville after turning up with a “ridiculous” blue hairstyle.
Pogba’s first-half performance did little to quieten the critics, but his display after the break did as he hit a quickfire double to set United on course for a memorable 3-2 comeback win that stopped City sealing the title.
“To be honest, I didn’t want to lose against City,” the midfielder told Sky Sports. “Last year, I still have it in my mind.
“Played at City, if they win they are champions against Manchester United. For all the fans it would be like death.
“To lose against Manchester City and to see them celebrate in their own stadium, I couldn’t let this happen, to be honest.
“I mean at half-time when we are in the dressing room we said, ‘We have nothing to lose, let’s go, please keep believing, let’s make it’.”
Guardiola made a beeline for Pogba at full-time but claims to have only congratulated him for the win and not mentioned his pre-match comments.
Mourinho was not keen to be drawn on the City boss’ pre-match hand grenade and instead used the press conference to praise the United midfielder’s display.
“I was impressed but I don’t know because I didn’t even speak with him about what Pep told and what Raiola told,” the United boss said.
“I didn’t speak. I’m not interested in if it was Pep or Mino right, I’m not interested in that.
“I know that Paul played well against Swansea, I know he had a very good week of work especially Tuesday and Wednesday, two fantastic training sessions and this game comes in that sequence.
“Of course, two goals for a midfield player in a big match like this one stays in the memory of the people, especially the fans.
“He needs that confidence because he knows, I know he had some performances not at the level of expectation we have from Paul.
“But he’s improving. Against Swansea I was happy and today him, (Nemanja) Matic and (Ander) Herrera, I think they were phenomenal for 90 minutes.”