Pogba shows panache but must provide security to fully win over Mourinho
When Jose Mourinho is asked about Paul Pogba -- and he is asked a lot -- the Manchester United manager usually says the French midfielder "is the team."
It is not that Pogba is a symbol of the club. Not yet, anyway. It is that, more often than not, his individual performance is a good barometer of how well, or badly, the team has played.
The 3-2 win over Manchester City earlier this month is an example. Pogba was poor in the first half and so were United. Better after half time, the team improved, too. In the end, the good outweighed the bad and United won 3-2.
Mourinho has said more than once this season that he has been better at controlling his emotions on the touchline. Never too happy, never too angry, but that rule goes out of the window with Pogba.
One raking pass out to the left wing against Arsenal on Sunday was rewarded with a clap and a nod from his manager. But there was also more than one ill-conceived pass or flick that got the Portuguese coach turning to his bench with a look of exhausted exasperation.
Mourinho wants his team and Pogba to be more consistent. It is no coincidence that in three of what Mourinho considers the most disappointing results in the Premier League this season -- defeats at Tottenham and Newcastle and at home to West Brom -- Pogba was substituted in all three.
This month's fixtures have perfectly encapsulated Mourinho's challenge with his most expensive signing. Brilliant in the second half at the Etihad, then miserable for 58 minutes against West Brom a week later. Impressive against Bournemouth three days after that and again in the FA Cup semifinal against Tottenham at Wembley. Against Arsenal at Old Trafford he scored his sixth goal of the season as well as trying Mourinho's patience.
Despite speculation about his future, there has been no indication from United that they are looking to sell Pogba this summer. After Pep Guardiola claimed he was offered the chance to buy the 25-year-old in January, club chiefs were quick to deny it. Pogba was not for sale, sources told ESPN FC, and especially not to Manchester City.
There is a clash of ideals between Pogba and Mourinho, but not enough to cause a personal problem. Pogba's flamboyance seeps out of everything from his clothes to his hair to the way he plays football. Mourinho, meanwhile, is pragmatic and organised and likes his teams to be the same.
Mourinho, sources have told ESPN FC, has no problem with Pogba showing off his tricks and flicks when the time is right. He is positively encouraged.
But he has also been reminded, more than once, that there is a skill in doing the simple things -- a five-yard pass here or a creating an angle for someone else there.
There are question marks about whether Pogba is good enough to, as Mourinho's coaching staff put it, "sense danger." It is one thing to see it when it is happening. It is another to spot it early enough to make sure it does not happen at all.
Pogba will never be able to escape his defensive duties as long as he plays for Mourinho, although that does not separate him out. The same is true for Romelu Lukaku, who has impressed Mourinho with his work rate and defensive diligence in his first season at the club. It says a lot about Mourinho's blueprint that it is valued as highly as his 27 goals.
The 2-1 win over Arsenal capped off a two-month spell during which United have beaten each of their top-six rivals. With Manchester City already receiving guards of honour, Mourinho has not been able to get too carried away, but it is positive ahead of next season when the pressure will be on to win the title.
Barring an outrageous offer from Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid, or a sudden change of heart from Mourinho, Pogba will be a key part of the team expected to challenge City. For Mourinho, it is not a case of making major changes, but having fewer bad days at the office. The same goes for Pogba.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.