Why is it that when watching Paul Pogba play for Manchester United it’s like watching a totally different player from the one who plays for France?
Why does he excel in one system far more than the other?
Pogba fulfills a different role for club than he does for country. For France, he’s praised as a creative leader playing a vital role on France’s World Cup-winning squad. For club, he’s lambasted as an incompetent hack at the root of Man United’s woes.
His United salary shows that the club see his potential, but why bring him back if his key strengths aren’t fully utilized? He’s proven that he has the ability to change the momentum of play. Sadly, Mourinho will be the reason Pogba will never reach his peak at United.
Mourinho is notorious for his defensive tactics that have proven to work over the years. He stresses the importance of game management through defensive shape with emphasis on the central midfielders. He usually lines up his side in a 4-3-3, which transitions to a 4-5-1 for the majority of the match. It’s basically the least attacking 4-3-3 in world football.
Pogba, in particular, plays on the left side of the three midfielders. His main role is defending. He’s not Paul Scholes. His strength isn’t sitting back and pinging pinpoint long balls. But that’s how he’s used. Mourinho handcuffs Pogba to his defensive duties, which makes him tentative to get forward and create.
And it’s not just Pogba. The entire team is hesitant to attack. Unfortunately, when a team is overcome with fear during a match, their reaction is to play to not lose rather than to win.
For France, Pogba is given freedom to roam the pitch creating chances. Didier Deschamps lines up France in a 4-2-3-1 with Mbappé pushing up as an extra forward and Matuidi tucking in from the left to help defensively. This gives Pogba license to push forward, actively creating rather than sitting behind midfield trying to create. He thrives when he is amongst the forwards playing one-twos in and around the penalty area. He was such an important player for France during the World Cup because he not only defended, but was able to push forward and form chances. Watching his body language, it’s evident that Pogba dreads returning to England to play for Mourinho where he knows he can’t play to his strengths.
There’s an interesting quote in Sir Alex Ferguson’s book Leading that’s relevant to how Mourinho has negatively affected his players:
“If you look at all my teams, it was evident that they enjoyed playing and they tended to express themselves in an uninhibited fashion. People do not do that if they are quaking in their boots or if their boss has made them afraid of their own shadows. If that had been the case at United, people would have seen a team that concentrated on avoiding defeat rather than winning.”
This is how United play under Mourinho. They’re boring to watch because they have no flair, they have no passion and they’re not having fun, which all comes down to the tactics of their manager.
Mourinho no longer instills fear in the opponents. He instills it in his own players.