Stephen Hunt

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - STEPHEN HUNT

The en­forced ab­sence might ac­tu­ally help De Bruyne and keep him fresher for longer this sea­son. He will get a proper rest, the chance to recharge the bat­ter­ies and have some time off.

WE had a tale of two cen­tral mid­field­ers in one city last week, star­ring the muchloved Kevin De Bruyne, the unloved Paul Pogba, and their post-World Cup ad­ven­tures. The bad news has since broke for De Bruyne and Manch­ester City that he will be out for three months with a knee lig­a­ment in­jury sus­tained in train­ing. I don’t care what you say, in­juries like this have to be down to a lack of proper rest time. It is cer­tainly a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor and it is get­ting out of hand. Do not be sur­prised if more Pre­mier League play­ers who reached the lat­ter stages of the World Cup start go­ing down with var­i­ous in­juries over the next few weeks.

You would think with the for­tunes clubs are pay­ing for sports science and med­i­cal ad­vice that some­one would have worked out that th­ese lads need rest. It would not hap­pen in any other walk of life. You get six weeks off, ad­mit­tedly not in one block, but it is time you are en­ti­tled to away from work and with your fam­ily.

Some of th­ese boys have only had two or three weeks away from foot­ball and it is not enough. Yes, they are get­ting paid a lot of money but they are un­der im­mense pres­sure from the day they walk back into a foot­ball club in the close sea­son and the body and mind can­not han­dle it all the time.

If any­thing, this en­forced ab­sence might ac­tu­ally help De Bruyne and keep him fresher for longer this sea­son. He will get a proper rest, the chance to recharge the bat­ter­ies and have some time off. It is the time off he should have had. He was ob­vi­ously not ready phys­i­cally for the new sea­son.

For some of the play­ers re­turn­ing from the World Cup, it must al­most feel like a hang­over. Some prob­a­bly have no in­ter­est in be­ing back at their clubs in one way, and prob­a­bly find it very dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate on set­ting their goals.

Yes, they are sharp now but they are be­ing over­worked to a cer­tain de­gree and I bet one or two play­ers at Manch­ester City haven’t prop­erly sat down to set their goals for the sea­son. Some have squeezed their hol­i­days in to get back to work and not pressed their re­set but­ton. That’s not good.

De Bruyne is one of the most tech­ni­cally-gifted play­ers, the com­plete mid­fielder, so he will be sorely missed, but his ab­sence of course means an op­por­tu­nity for some­one else. Pep Guardi­ola has plenty of op­tions but can Riyad Mahrez step into his shoes? Is this the op­por­tu­nity for Phil Fo­den?

I think they will con­sider play­ing Mahrez in the role and while I know he likes to come in­side nat­u­rally, I don’t think the £60m sum­mer sign­ing from Le­ices­ter can play in there against top-qual­ity sides, although he might get away with it against the weaker teams.

Fo­den ob­vi­ously needs games and this could and should be his op­por­tu­nity, if Guardi­ola thinks he can trust him and is se­ri­ous about his youth sys­tem.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see what im­pact the De Bruyne in­jury has on the whole chain at Manch­ester City and how much it pre­vents other play­ers fur­ther down the line go­ing out on loan, such as Fo­den. There is qual­ity through­out the club in the youth ranks and op­por­tu­ni­ties like this might not come along very of­ten for Guardi­ola to have a good look at the kids.

As for Pogba, Jose Mour­inho and Manch­ester United, it all looks like a di­vorce wait­ing to hap­pen. And I put the blame firmly at the man­ager’s door.

A few weeks ago, when he was spread­ing his mis­ery on tour with Manch­ester United around the US, Mour­inho in­di­cated he wanted to see more of his World Cup play­ers sac­ri­fic­ing their hol­i­days to re­turn to pre-sea­son train­ing. Pogba was clearly his tar­get.

The worst case World Cup sce­nario for Mour­inho was France win­ning it and Pogba hav­ing a good com­pe­ti­tion. He needed France to fail. Sud­denly, Pogba has all the power in the world be­cause he knows ev­ery club would love to take him and there is noth­ing Mour­inho can do. Pogba just wants to be loved but Mour­inho will never love him.

No one emerges from this story with much credit but I do think it is Mour­inho’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep his crit­i­cism and ob­ser­va­tions in-house.

Play­ers never want to let their man­ager down, and they should all be scared of him to a cer­tain ex­tent. It doesn’t seem to me that Pogba has any fear of Mour­inho and he is only em­pow­ered by his per­for­mances in Rus­sia — which were much closer to the Pogba we ex­pected to see when he joined United two years ago.

Look at how Mour­inho has han­dled Luke Shaw. There is some un­der­stand­ing for the man­ager be­cause the de­fender has not played enough, has not shown much im­prove­ment at Old Traf­ford, and sud­denly he looks like a man who has spent two months in the gym and is se­ri­ous about his foot­ball.

But Mour­inho should still not ham­mer him in pub­lic. There is no win­ner there. Mour­inho is clearly un­der huge pres­sure. And the mis­er­able way he came back to pre-sea­son and the at­mos­phere he has been gen­er­at­ing around Manch­ester United does not bode well.

I can­not see him see­ing out the sea­son. He looks like he needs a rest and I would say his next move will be into in­ter­na­tional man­age­ment.

He looks fed up. But then if I was look­ing at a third year in a ho­tel I would be mis­er­able too. It is tough be­ing away from your fam­ily. I spent a year in a house on my own in Ip­swich while the wife and kids were in Birm­ing­ham or Ire­land. It nearly drove me in­sane and I re­mem­ber think­ing, many times, how was I go­ing to sur­vive it. It’s not go­ing to help your state of mind, that’s for sure.

On the ev­i­dence so far, Mour­inho needs to change his — be­fore it’s too late.

It looks like a di­vorce wait­ing to hap­pen

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