Jose Mourinho was asked about Paul Pogba following Manchester United’s 4-1 Europa League victory over Fenerbahce on Thursday.
“First of all, in some of your mouths, he goes from the worst player in the Premier League to a great player in 48 hours,” Mourinho told journalists. “I am not specifically saying it is you. I say media, especially the Einsteins. We know he is a very good player. We know he needs some time to show his potential.”
Mourinho chose his moment. Pogba, the world’s most expensive player, had just scored his second and third goals in a United shirt. The first, a penalty that he insisted on taking ahead of his captain Wayne Rooney, would have lifted his confidence.
The French midfielder has been feeling the pressure and weight of expectation since his £89 million move from Juventus. In Turin, he went from being a promising young talent in a stable and successful team to football’s most highly-coveted midfielder. He adapted to Italian football quickly and is having to do the same in English football.
“I know Italian football very well,” continued Mourinho as he talked about Pogba. “I know teams play completely different from the Premier League. I am not saying we are better but we are different. Different in the intensity, the number of touches on the ball, everything is different and he needs time to adapt. He is a self-confident boy. He was not depressed because some people said he was a bad player. He was calm.”
Despite being taken off with 15 minutes to play, Pogba touched the ball 89 times — one for each million he cost — which was more than any other player on the pitch. He was also given the man of the match award and a huge ovation when he left the field. It was a positive night for the Frenchman and the first time he’d scored two goals in a game since a brace for Juventus against Lazio in November 2014.
Pogba’s second goal was the type of strike — Mourinho called it “beautiful” — that United fans hope they’ll see more of when he eventually settles into a regular position. After good work from Rooney and Jesse Lingard, Pogba blasted it into the net and danced to celebrate in front of Old Trafford’s Scoreboard End. Pogba doesn’t yet have a terrace song to his name, but he will have if he plays like that more often.
“It’s a great feeling and a great performance from the team,” he said quietly in the post-game mixed zone. “We played very well and scored a lot of goals. We enjoy playing like that and we have to be ready for the big games coming up. We wanted that win and it was very important. Scoring goals for me makes me very happy. I just try to play 100 percent all the time.”
Pogba quotes won’t rock any boats but they don’t need to when his boots do the talking. The same goes for Jesse Lingard, who scored and set up a goal in the same game for the first time in his United career. Pogba and Lingard are long-time friends, having played together in United’s youth teams.
“We had a sneaky feeling that Jesse would make it,” says Paul McGuinness, who coached both players. While Pogba was a giant even as a teenager, Lingard lacked his friend’s muscle and height and could struggle against bigger opponents.
“Sometimes when you’re behind in the group it makes you more resilient and you have to fight back,” continues McGuinness. “Jesse had to fight back and you saw that he had the right mentality. At every age group, there are people at United who can take credit for him getting in the first team. Of course the player has to do the work themselves, but if Jesse had not had that environment, care, attention, understanding and expertise, he wouldn’t have made it. I honestly don’t think that Jesse would have made it at any other club.”
McGuinness thinks Lingard’s best position is either playing off the front or coming in off the left wing on his right foot. As for Pogba, first impressions made quite an impact on the coach who was at United for 23 years until March this year.
“We’d heard from David Frio, the French scout. We’d heard from (scouts) Jim Ryan, Geoff Watson and Les Kershaw, who’d all seen him,” says McGuinness. “They said [Pogba] was a big lad, a big talent too. When he walked into Carrington I was taken by his size. He was gangly and I wondered what his feet would be like. Then I saw him start training and he was so skilful, with clever touches. He could pass, he was athletic, he could beat players. He was competitive and, crucially, he got on well with all the other players. Almost from the start, I thought ‘he’s got a great chance of making it,'”
Pogba and Lingard were part of United’s 2011 FA Youth Cup winning side and both would eventually make it in the club’s first team. Pogba did so via a successful — and costly for United — four-year stint in Italy, while Lingard got his chance after going on loan to the likes of Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton & Hove Albion and Derby County.
Like Pogba, Lingard is yet to get a song from the United faithful. Like Pogba, he’s now in form and ready to play against Chelsea. And, like Pogba, he was taken off in the second half against Fenerbahce with Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge, where he scored last season, in mind.
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