“I put myself first. My attitude wasn’t right.”
There, he’d delivered a disjointed, below-par display emblematic of his team’s. He had one bright moment – a long-range shot in the second half which would have been a stunning goal but for the fingertips of Brighton goalkeeper Matt Ryan – and he did end up scoring, albeit only a last-ditch penalty to halve the two-goal deficit purely for the purposes of making the final scoreline look slightly more respectable.
And that was the sum of his contribution to the game, in a situation which was tailor-made for a captain to lead the charge. Instead, he looked frustrated, rarely got the best aspects of his game going – the skill, power, and vision he showcases on his best days. He was dispossessed five times and only completed one of his five attempted dribbles.
Paul Pogba: "Our attitude was wrong. I put myself first, my attitude was wrong." pic.twitter.com/cAkFcAHWbF— Man Utd Channel (@ManUtdChannel) August 23, 2018
Yet his post-match performance will have done him a few favours. United didn’t lose because of Pogba. It was Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof’s defending which took care of that, allowing Brighton to score three soft goals. Pogba’s fault lay in not being able to do anything to bring United back from the brink.
Just before his admission of guilt, he subtly called out his colleagues, saying the entire team’s attitude wasn’t right. But by putting his own display under the harsh glare of the spotlight soon after, he accepted he would take the brunt of the public criticism.
His comments were almost that of a manager, deflecting attention from his team-mates’ mistakes by taking responsibility for his own. Somewhere in the vicinity, Jose Mourinho may have felt a sense of pride. Sir Alex Ferguson would certainly have appreciated the move.
Pogba knows who he is now – a World Cup winner and Man United captain. On the pitch, the buck stops with him. That he has the self-awareness to accept the weight of it, and call himself out when he felt he deserved it, shows why United have entrusted him with the armband.
It’s ironic that two games into the role, the Frenchman has questioned his own attitude.
Part of the turmoil surrounding United this summer has stemmed from Mourinho doing the exact same thing, challenging the 25-year-old to translate his World Cup success into something more consistent, more lasting at club level.
When the manager said Pogba needs to remember why he was able to star for France, and then apply it to United, he was basically making the same statement which came to Pogba in the aftermath of the demoralising loss on Sunday.
But post-match interviews in defeats are not where the referendums on Pogba’s captaincy will be conducted. If he’s publicly declared his attitude wasn’t the right one for a particular match, the next time he steps out onto the pitch, he has to show that he’s fixed that problem. Leadership and responsibility need to be shown during the game, not after it.
Since Pogba signed for #MUFC he has started 57 games in the Premier League: Won 33, Drawn 16 and Lost 8. 115 points at 2.01 points per game. Without Pogba in the side: Played 21, Won 11, Drawn 5, Lost 5. 38 points at 1.8 points per game. He's worth 7 to 8 points a season to side.— Joe Sillett (@JoeSillett) August 22, 2018
So all eyes will be on him on Monday, when United take on Tottenham in the team’s first big game of the season.
Spurs have won both of their opening games and will come to Old Trafford full of confidence, especially if they sense, like many others do, that their hosts are a team in crisis.
It’s up to Pogba to show his post-match comments weren’t mere words. He needs to be a leader on the pitch, rallying his teammates, giving them an example to follow, and sending out a message to his own team and everyone else that while he’s on the pitch, his attitude can carry United to victory just as much as his match-winning ability.
He’s shown he can talk the talk when it comes to being captain. But now it’s time for him to walk the walk.
Manchester United‘s transfer spending has come under the scanner after a poor transfer window – a situation exacerbated by the team’s loss to Brighton at the weekend.
The result laid bare tension between manager Jose Mourinho and the club board, and while Mourinho has his fair share of detractors among fans, Old Trafford hierarchy is also coming under fire for apparently not backing the manager enough in the window.
But is that true? While this particular summermay have been disappointing, United have been willing spenders in recent years – lavishing nearly £700million since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Here’s a look at where that money’s gone, and how well it’s been spent.
Players bought: Marouane Fellaini (£27.5million), Juan Mata (£37.1million)
Amount spent: £64.6million
For all that Fellaini has been able to convince two subsequent managers to keep him around, just the circumstances of his arrival – a £27.5million fee that could have been £23.5million had United moved a month earlier, before a buyout clause of that value expired – made the deal a farce. That’s before mentioning his unpopularity with the fans and his status as a symbol of the club’s inability to play attractive football on a consistent basis since his arrival.
Mata arrived six months later – it’s easy to forget that he’s a Moyes signing – and has been a good, if not great player since then, providing plenty of moments of brilliance and shaking off the criticism that he can’t be relied upon defensively, a tag that dogged him earlier in his career.
Louis Van Gaal
Players bought: Daley Blind (£14million), Marcos Rojo (£16million), Angel di Maria (£59.7million), Radamel Falcao (loan), Ander Herrera (£29million), Luke Shaw (£30million), Vanja Milinkovic-Savic (£1.58million), Victor Valdes (free)
Amount spent: £150.28million
The transfer spend figure doesn’t account for Falcao’s loan fee, a reported £6million, but even without that this was not a good window. Di Maria’s disastrous one-season spell at the club saw to that. He was a blockbuster signing who could have thrived, but he struggled to fit in under Van Gaal and in Manchester in general.
Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, and Marcos Rojo are still at the club, which says something, but at the moment none are automatic first-choice picks, and Rojo likely never will be. £75million is a lot to spend on players who aren’t guaranteed regular appearances.
Players bought: Bastian Schweinsteiger (£6.5million), Morgan Schneiderlin (£22million), Memphis Depay (£25million), Anthony Martial (£37million), Sergio Romero (free transfer), Matteo Darmian (£12.7million)
Amount spent: £103.2million
Depay, Schweinsteiger, and Schneiderlin never quite cut it at United, while Martial may end up going the same way despite showing flashes of immense talent. Indeed, that particular season he finished as the club’s top scorer, but he’s struggled since then.
Darmian and Romero still remain at the club, though both as back-ups and in Darmian’s case, somewhat unwillingly. But in itself, £12.7million for two squad players is decent business. It’s the other signings of the window who let the class down.
Players bought: Eric Bailly (£30million), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free), Paul Pogba (£89million), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£30million)
Amount spent: £149million
HIT/MISS: In between
Ibrahimovic was an instant hit, both for his goals – 28 across all competitions – and the leadership he provided. Young players like Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Jesse Lingard have all spoken of the Swede’s positive influence on their development.
On the other hand, Mkhitaryan never prospered at United, chafing under Mourinho’s defensive style, while it’s still too early to take a call on Bailly and especially Pogba. Both have shown flashes of their best, and if they can find that level consistently, everyone will look back at Mourinho’s first transfer window as a masterstroke.
Players bought: Victor Lindelof (£30.75million), Romelu Lukaku (£75million), Nemanja Matic (£40million), Alexis Sanchez (swap)
Amount spent: £150.75million
Just the initial success of Lukaku and Matic would be enough to make this a hit. Add the fact that Sanchez will undoubtedly improve, and Lindelof has shown enough signs – though he’s been inconsistent so far – that he can be a good centre-back with the proper guidance.
Depending on whether Sanchez does rediscover top form, this window could end up being the best of United’s post-Fergie era – although that also depends on how the class of the previous summer (Pogba and Bailly) turn out.
Players bought: Fred (£52million), Diogo Dalot (£19.8million), Lee Grant (£1.53million)
Amount spent: £73.33million
This window gets a miss for the players United didn’t sign, rather than as a referendum on the arrivals. United strangely didn’t target a left-back at all, and they whiffed on all their centre-back targets.
It’s hard to argue with the board’s stance that it wasn’t worth spending astronomical fees on Harry Maguire, quoted at anywhere between £60million and £75million, or Toby Alderweireld, who’ll be available for £25million next year. But that reluctance meant no reinforcements arrived, leaving Mourinho with a defence that clearly doesn’t fill him with confidence (though his first-choice centre-backs, Bailly and Lindelof, are players he’s bought).
TOTAL SPENT: £691.16million
OVERALL HIT/MISS: Miss
Nearly £700million spent, and only four players – Pogba, Lukaku, Matic, and Sanchez – can be considered guaranteed first-choice players. And even among those four, doubts persist about Pogba and Sanchez.
Mourinho has put the United board on notice this summer with his frustrations over transfers, but it’s hard to say he hasn’t been backed. The club has spent over £370million during his tenure, and progress has been only incremental. They’ve yet to catch up to Man City, who have won two league titles since Ferguson’s retirement, and there’s a danger that they’ll be eclipsed by Liverpool.
It’s safe to say that United haven’t spent wisely since their legendary manager signed off.
While there is currently understandable focus on Jose Mourinho‘s missed transfer targets, United’s July acquisition of the Brazil international looks good business.
Rejecting the overtures of rivals City, PSG and some clubs in China, Fred joined from Shakhtar Donetsk in a £47million deal and thanked agent Gilberto, part of Arsenal’s Invincibles, for helping pave the way to Old Trafford.
“Gilberto was a top midfielder who played for Arsenal,” Fred told the club’s official website.
“But he has a lot of respect for Manchester United, who are obviously a big club here in England.
“He praised the club a lot and, after he was granted the opportunity to speak to Jose Mourinho and other senior figures at United, we made the decision together for me to come here. We decided it would be a good move for me.
“Gilberto is a top guy and his advice means a lot to me. He played in the same position as I do and he won the Premier League, so I look to him for inspiration, I listen to what he has to say and I take on board what he tells me.”
Fred is pushing to make his third United start when United host Tottenham on Monday.
Mourinho’s men will be desperate to move on from the 3-2 humbling at Brighton – a match that Alexis Sanchez missed with an unspecified injury.
The United boss said after the loss at Albion they were awaiting test results, but did not think it was a “big thing” as he suggested a one or two-week absence.
Former Arsenal forward Sanchez is attempting to be fit in time for Spurs and posted snapshots of his progress on Instagram.
“Training be back soon,” he said in one post at the Aon Training Complex on Thursday afternoon. “Come on United.”
Later that evening he posted a video with his dogs in the garden, saying: “Gym at home.”