It’s all about spin, I guess. Spin, and how you view the person doing the talking.
Paul Pogba came out after Manchester United’s 3-2 defeat at Brighton and, as I saw it, took the loss on the chin.
“The attitude that we had was not like we wanted to beat them,” he said. “They had more hunger than us and that showed on the pitch. I put myself first. My attitude wasn’t right enough. We’ll keep trying and pushing and obviously it’s a lesson for us.”
I read that as a team captain saying the blame rests with the players on the pitch, himself first and foremost. Perhaps excessively so, too, because much of United’s attacking output came via Pogba and the individual errors that cost Jose Mourinho’s side the game weren’t down to him. But hey: win and lose as a team. Pogba is taking responsibility and, along the way, he’s perhaps deflecting some blame from his embattled manager.
Some, especially those who see everything through Mourinho vs. Pogba lenses, had the opposite view, seeing it as a veiled attack on the manager since “attitude” is presumably something he’s supposed to instill.
Others, like Paul Scholes, took a different tack and skewered Pogba.
“I hope that is lost in translation,” he said. “There is no defence for that comment, there is no defence for it. You say it to yourself, don’t you? You’re constantly saying it to yourself: ‘Attitude right, make sure it’s right.’ You don’t need other people to tell you. You don’t need a manager to tell you that, or your teammates.”
Needless to say, I don’t get Scholes’ comment. Pogba isn’t using it as an excuse; he’s offering an explanation about why his team was so poor. He’s owning the defeat and he’s doing it in public, something that may be novel to Scholes since he very rarely spoke after matches.
Maybe Scholes could get his “attitude right” by repeating “attitude right” over and over again in his head. For whatever reason, this didn’t happen with United’s players and all Pogba is doing is admitting it.
Individual errors led to all three Brighton goals and the center-backs, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, will get the brunt of the blame, with Mourinho’s critics pointing out that both were his signings (and neither was exactly cheap). That’s all true, but Ashley Young was equally at fault for the first goal; and in midfield, both Fred and Andreas Pereira struggled. Up front, there was little creativity despite some sustained spells of possession.
Things should improve as the season settles down. When Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard (who sparked things into life somewhat when he came on) and Alexis Sanchez are all fit and capable of playing from the first minute, this team gets qualitatively better. And against most Premier League sides, that ought to be enough.
The back four, on the other hand, is an issue that will linger. It’s not that they’re all terrible, but Mourinho’s past statements have spoken volumes about how he feels about some of these guys. Now it’s up to him — and them — to make it work.
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