José Mourinho has sprung to the defence of Paul Pogba after the French midfielder was criticised for an anonymous performance in Manchester United’s FA Cup defeat at Chelsea. The contribution of the world’s most expensive player was also compared unfavourably with that of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, a relative snip at £32m, but Mourinho claimed pundits were simply envious of the money modern players are earning.
“I feel that the world is losing values and I am scared about the level of envy coming in,” the United manager said. “It is not Paul’s fault that he gets 10 times the money some players did in the past. It is not his fault that some pundits are in real trouble with their lives and need every coin to survive, while Paul is a multimillionaire. I think Paul deserves respect, I think his family deserve respect.
“He is from a normal working family, a family with three boys, and I am sure they needed a lot of food on their table each day because they are all giants, so their mum and dad must have had to work hard for many, many years to bring them up. This is a kid that came to Manchester as a teenager, who fought for his career here and was not afraid to move to another country and look for better conditions. Paul reached the top and nobody gave him anything. I am really worried about the way things are going with previous generations. Envy is everywhere.”
Pogba had come under fire from the TV pundits Jamie Carragher and Frank Lampard in and after the Chelsea game, with the former branding him a liability and the latter suggesting Pogba was still searching for his best position. That pair only retired recently, and both enjoyed well-paid careers, so the exact target of Mourinho’s envy allegations remains obscure.
“I am very happy with Paul and the club is very happy with Paul,” Mourinho said of United’s £89m summer signing. “And the best thing is that because of his personality he doesn’t give an ‘S’ to what people say about him.”
The midfielder is fit to face Rostov in Thursday night’s Europa League second leg, a game for which Zlatan Ibrahimovic is eligible despite serving a domestic suspension. Mourinho confirmed Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney are still unavailable, however, and suggested Ibrahimovic would be the only alteration from the team that faced Chelsea.
“Martial missed the Chelsea game through injury and if you cannot be selected for a Monday night game you are also injured for the Tuesday training session,” the manager said. “Martial is out of my mind, Rooney is still in the medical department after taking a kick in his knee, so we have the same players we had in the last match, plus Ibrahimovic.”
The defeat on Monday at Stamford Bridge means United can at least streamline their fixture list to some extent. Having won the EFL Cup they are no longer fighting on three other fronts, and both competitions in which they remain can deliver Champions League qualification. United’s main problem now is deciding whether attempting to go all the way and win the Europa League is a better bet than aiming for a top‑four finish in the Premier League, bearing in mind other sides have found prolonged runs in the European event can have an adverse effect on domestic results. They drew 1-1 with Rostov in the first leg.
“The Europa League is a very important competition for us, we said that right from the start,” Mourinho said. “Several things went against us in the last game [at Chelsea]: first we had to play on a Monday, second we had to play with 10 men, and third was to have a promenade on the M6 [United’s intended flight from Heathrow did not materialise and the squad had to return home by coach]. The fans know that, and against Rostov we believe they will give us extra energy to fight to reach the quarter-final.”
Marouane Fellaini, who came on as a substitute at Stamford Bridge, said the team would be ready despite being asked to play every three days. “We are professionals, we can cope,” the midfielder said. “We have had a lot of games and a lot of competitions, but we know how important it is to reach the Champions League. All the players, the staff and the supporters want to be in the Champions League next season whichever way we do it. We have the squad, we have the quality, we will do everything to be there, and I think we will show that in the next game.”
Manchester United (4-2-3-1, possible): De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Ibrahimovic.