Fans back Mourinho over Pogba but tire of controversy, poor results
Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho have dominated the news again this week, creating an unedifying, circus-like effect around Manchester United that fans do not like. While rivals like Liverpool and Manchester City win consistently, United lurch between victories, arguments and supposedly lesser teams outplaying them at Old Trafford.
Supporters doubt the message when both say there are no problems, because there have been issues throughout 2018. Most have never made it out of the dressing room, but Wednesday's footage of a less-than-amicable exchange on the training ground brought things into the public eye.
(At least we know this latest incident was due to a miscommunication and that Pogba was telling the truth when he said he posted on Instagram during -- not after -- Tuesday's Carabao Cup tie match against Derby County. Old Trafford's infamously poor Wi-Fi meant the post was not seen until after the game ended.)
Mourinho has support from the majority of fans, even though they are frustrated when teams like Derby and Wolves visit and play so well, demonstrating clearer ideas and patterns of play than United, whose main tactic having taken the lead appears to be about stopping opponents, rather than pressing forward for a bigger advantage.
Fans know the manager has his foibles and is not perfect, but who is? The word among other leading coaches is that, while United is a huge club, the job can be a well-paid but thankless task that would require a manager to start everything again, just as David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho felt obliged to do after Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
"Mourinho is absolutely right in the way he's dealing with Pogba," said Romford, a 57-year-old, London-based "cockney" red, who is a well-known figure among United's travelling support. "No player is bigger than the club and he needs to show him who is in charge, just like Ferguson did no matter how important the player was. I don't want United to be like Chelsea, changing managers all the time. I'm proud of United fans sticking with and getting behind Jose. He's trying to turn it around, we need to support him, but the players have to step up too."
The talk about differences between Pogba and Mourinho has been a hot topic for weeks and it will not go away. Fans know there are two sides: Pogba is within his rights to hope for more attacking football, while Mourinho is right to ask for a better attitude and determination from his players.
However, it is an energy-sapping mess. United have the second-highest wage bill in the world, but the squad is a long way from the top of football's summit. Maybe they would be a little closer without this latest petty distraction.
Beyond the back-page headlines, the style of play remains an issue and while a large number of fans might back Mourinho over the Pogba situation, those who believe that he will become a great United manager are evermore thin on the ground.
"We're in a bad place, bordering on crisis, and this is the worst situation since Fergie left the club," said Doylie, 57, who hails from West Gorton in Manchester and is known around the city by supporters of all allegiances. "It reminds me of the situation between Tommy Docherty and George Best in the 1970s. Docherty told him that he didn't have to train if he didn't want to, George didn't train because he thought his manager didn't want him to train. It was Best who left the club.
"Now," he adds, "where do the club go from here? If Jose picks Pogba then he almost undermines himself. But how can he not pick him when he's paid so much, when he's so talented and when he's so popular with a lot of the players?
"I don't think that Pogba is the finished article, but he's been a disappointment here, he's not delivered enough. He's now in his third season and I expected more, but then Mourinho's also in his third season. I'm not convinced that Mourinho's strength is in man management and I think he's always had senior players around him who've acted as go-betweens for him with other players, but who does that at United?"
Doylie and Romford were among those who travelled to Cork on Tuesday for a tribute game in memory of former United midfielder Liam Miller, who died of cancer in February. They will stick by the manager and team, whatever happens and no matter how good rivals might be. Besides, it is not like they haven't seen the best of times.
After Tuesday's penalty shootout defeat to Derby, Romford received a text from another fan that contained a blunt message: "Mourinho Out". He shook his head.
"Every penalty from both sides was absolutely brilliant apart from the Phil Jones one," he said. "We got a last-minute equaliser with 10 men so you can't say that the players weren't playing for the manager; they kept trying until the 95th minute. We have to stick by him."
That support will be on display during yet another must-win game on Saturday at West Ham, who have won only one of their six league matches. We know Pogba will not be captain, but United and Mourinho need him to do his talking on the pitch for once.