What Jose Mourinho must learn from France to unlock best of Paul Pogba at Manchester United, explains club legend
Northern Ireland legend Sammy McIlroy believes Paul Pogba has come of age at the World Cup and Manchester United must learn from France how to get the best out of him.
The 25-year-old, who scored during France's 4-2 final victory over Croatia on Sunday, was one of the tournament’s star performers after a troubled season at United that ended with clouds hanging over his future.
The £89.3m club-record signing was even dropped for a period last term and his personal relationship with boss Jose Mourinho appeared strained.
The Portuguese had criticised his inconsistency in a United shirt and also highlighted concerns about whether he was prepared to sacrifice his flamboyance for the team.
The irony isn’t lost in his homeland where his nickname is ‘La Pioche’, which translates as ‘the pickaxe’ because of his willingness to help others.
And as he returns to Old Trafford with a World Cup winners’ medal round his neck, his reputation on the world stage has been restored.
“I have been very impressed with Pogba,” said McIlroy, who played over 400 games for United and played and managed his country. “He has shown people what he can do in a French shirt. He has played for the team more than himself and what has struck me most about him is how disciplined he is with and without the ball.”
Mourinho might already have got the message that what’s best for Pogba is also what’s best for United. The Red Devils badly missed a Michael Carrick-type creative midfielder last season to take some of the pressure off Pogba.
Mourinho made that a priority this summer and secured the signature of Brazilian Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk for £52m back in June.
Fred is more comfortable on the ball than Pogba’s French midfield partner N’Golo Kante, but just like Kante, Fred will complement Pogba’s strengths by sitting deep when his fellow 25-year-old goes forward.
Indeed, France have shown that if you have the right pieces in place, Pogba will flourish.
McIlroy added: “Everyone knew Pogba was a player and everyone was documenting his ups and downs with United, but with France he plays a different way.
“(French coach Didier) Deschamps allows France to play to his strengths. He is saying to the world, ‘This is the type of player that I am’. That has been the case from the first game.
“They have him in a role that he is comfortable with. He is playing all over the park and not just sitting in front of a back four like he has been at United. I am not saying he is a free spirit because it is a far more mature role than that. His decision-making on when to go forward and when to stay deep has been first class.
“That is, in part, thanks to Kante alongside him who has been magnificent. He has got that sort of relationship with Kante where he can say, ‘Look, I’m going to do this’ and he knows Kante will look after him.
“I am not sure there was anyone at United last season who could do that. The closest to it was probably Nemanja Matic, but he is much freer with France than he is with United.
“You can’t tell Mourinho how to manage players. We have got to get the best out of Pogba, as simple as that. It is down to player and manager to sort that out.”
United know that they have a player in great demand. Cristiano Ronaldo has reportedly urged his new club Juventus to try to re-sign the French ace.
McIlroy added: “Of course he could return to United and things don’t go any better, I hope and believe that won’t be the case. But we need two things from him — more consistency and doing it the way he plays for France.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital