Give Pogba more Roo-m

> Mour­inho has to drop Rooney and let French­man be the of­fi­cial No. 10 to in­ject more life into lack­lus­tre Devils

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

THE SWAG­GER didn’t last very long and nor did the hon­ey­moon. Even more wor­ry­ing for Manch­ester United is what’s hap­pen­ing to “the Mour­inho ef­fect”. It used to guar­an­tee tro­phies be­fore wear­ing off af­ter three years: now it’s just wear­ing off – af­ter three games.

The de­served de­feat at Wat­ford com­pleted a calami­tous week and earned their man­ager his first hat­trick of losses since he was at Porto. The book­ies have slashed their odds on a divorce by Christ­mas.

But let us not get ahead of our­selves – he would surely have to poke one of the Glaz­ers in the eye for that to hap­pen and they all wear glasses. In foot­ball par­lance, Septem­ber is still early doors, it is not yet a cri­sis and the fix­ture list has been kind.

Af­ter lowly Northamp­ton away in the League Cup to­mor­row, they have three winnable home games (Le­ices­ter, Zo­rya Luhansk and Stoke) be­fore a trip to Liver­pool. If they haven’t sorted things out by then, An­field is not the place to go plead­ing for mercy.

The sud­den col­lapse is one that no one saw com­ing. The pre-sea­son talk was of a two-horse ti­tle race with the Manch­ester der­bies as likely de­ciders. But now we know such lofty ex­pec­ta­tions were built on fame not form, as well as the for­tune spent.

The Spe­cial One looked the right “fit” – mas­sive name, mas­sive club – just as Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic did and Paul Pogba. United made a big thing of be­ing the club to buy the world’s most ex­pen­sive player, an­nounc­ing it to the New York Stock Ex­change al­most as if it were a tro­phy in it­self. Real Madrid were nowhere.

Mour­inho im­pressed in his early weeks. Clearly he was not daunted by the task, as David Moyes had been, and was more in tune than Louis van Gaal ever was about United’s stand­ing in the scheme of things. He had al­ways cov­eted the job af­ter all.

His sign­ings looked as­tute – Ibra on a free and Hen­drikh Mkhi­taryan and Eric Bailly for around £30 mil­lion (RM159m) apiece. And he was not over­awed at pay­ing £89 mil­lion (RM471m) for Pogba – it didn’t seem to be his de­ci­sion any­way, but a cor­po­rate “state­ment”.

What no one imag­ined was that Mour­inho, of all peo­ple, wouldn’t be able to get them to play. Or to get Wayne Rooney to play or the rest of those left over from pre­vi­ous regimes.

It didn’t have to be the trans­for­ma­tion that Pep Guardi­ola has wrought with so many of the un­der-per­form­ing ap­par­ent medi­oc­ri­ties that Manuel Pel­le­grini left him, but an im­prove­ment on the stilted stuff of LVG was a min­i­mum re­quire­ment.

But it hasn’t hap­pened. There are so many ques­tions and so much to fix. Mid­field is a mish-mash where Manuel Fel­laini is the most re­li­able per­former!

Rooney, as he does with Eng­land, is drop­ping back into it as his legs and lungs fail him, and merely clut­ter­ing the space.

Mour­inho made a big deal about Rooney’s best po­si­tion – “a No. 9 1/2 maybe” he quipped. But like Sam Al­lardyce, he’s al­low­ing his skip­per to do what he wants. Apart from tak­ing set-pieces and try­ing to ref the game, all he does is spray the oc­ca­sional long ball to the wings. Not for him the quick, in­stinc­tive pass you see City mak­ing and he is slow­ing United down.

You feel a big de­ci­sion has to be made soon and the Mour­inho of his Chelsea and In­ter pomp wouldn’t have been shy in mak­ing it. Pep wasn’t shy to show Joe Hart the door and even though his re­place­ment is yet to con­vince, the team looks bet­ter off with­out the Eng­land keeper’s ego and poor kick­ing.

Mour­inho tried hard to sign Rooney at Chelsea and re­mains a fan, but he can no longer pre­tend that age hasn’t caught up and the team may be stronger with­out his brood­ing pres­ence.

Then there’s the small £89 mil­lion mat­ter of Pogba. Di­dier Deschamps was blamed for play­ing him too deep in the Eu­ros but even in the No. 10 role, it has been the same non-event. Mour­inho says he may be “try­ing too hard” while to many, he’s not try­ing hard enough.

The man­ager must find a way of get­ting him to play more fre­quently than at 15 minute in­ter­vals. It may re­quire drop­ping Rooney and let­ting Pogba be the of­fi­cial No. 10 with no in­ter­fer­ence from an ag­ing wannabe 9 1/2.

Ibra has done OK, Mkhi­taryan has been in­jured but he’s surely too good to fail, while Bailly might not be as good as first thought. As for the ex­ist­ing troops, Bas­tian Sch­we­in­steiger is ban­ished, Mor­gan Sch­nei­der­lin, Mat­teo Darmian and Michael Car­rick ig­nored.

You feel Mour­inho still doesn’t know his best team or how they should play which is sur­pris­ing for a man­ager of his stel­lar “Mr Fixit” cre­den­tials.

He’s also taken to crit­i­cis­ing play­ers – which is some­thing he never did the first time at Chelsea, nor at In­ter. It seems the in­ternecine war­fare that he stirred up at Real Madrid changed him for­ever: he’s cer­tainly not had the same suc­cess since.

There may also be some­thing in the the­ory that he is too “old school” for the younger play­ers whose at­ten­tion he does not grab as he did that of the Drog­bas and Ter­rys or the Snei­jders and Zanet­tis. Now, only 30-some­things Ibra and Rooney lis­ten.

The pres­sure is cer­tainly on him and de­spite the money spent, he may not have bought enough play­ers. In­deed, the club’s in­sis­tence on the “state­ment sign­ing” has back­fired spec­tac­u­larly as there is still a jour­ney­man qual­ity to many po­si­tions.

Mar­cus Rash­ford and Ti­mothy Fo­suMen­sah must start as youth­ful hunger is badly needed and he should de­cide on what style and for­ma­tion he wants to play.

Be­cause up to now, it doesn’t ap­pear as if there is a style while the for­ma­tion changes. This is partly why the world’s most ex­pen­sive player is, in the words of Paul Sc­holes, “all over the place.” He’s not the only one.

Wat­ford’s Jose Hole­bas (left) Eti­enne Capoue (right) vie with Manch­ester United’s Paul Pogba dur­ing their English Pre­mier League foot­ball match at Vicarage Road Sta­dium on Satur­day. – AFPPIX

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