I am not a great fan of Manchester United FC, Jose Mourinho or even Paul Pogba. Yet I am celebrating all three of them because of their common indefatigable spirit.
They all always seem to be able to navigate where there appears to be no way to succeed against the odds.
Manchester United are not the best English Club this season. Mourinho is not the best manager in the EPL this season either. Paul Pogba has not justified his costliest player in the world this season. But between all three of them they have succeeded against all odds.
Manchester United’s second trophy this season may be for Europe’s second tier club championship but last Wednesday night, for all Manchester United fans care, it was as valuable as the UEFA champions league trophy itself that has eluded them for well over a decade.
The final match of the 2017Europa Cup against Ajax Amsterdam FC was not a classic by any yardstick. It was a hard fought, hard won battle that meant so much that Mourinho, after the emotionally packed match, was captured by television cameras rolling (suit and all) in ecstatic jubilation on the lush green grass of the stadium in Stockholm with his son. He was also caught celebrating as if he had just won the World Cup trophy, jumping and pumping the air and dancing with his players in abandon. It was a new and totally new side of the usually taciturn Mourinho.
Jose Mourinho’s reputation as a winning coach, one of the very best in the world, fondly described as ‘the Special One’, was on the line particularly after the season of drought that he went through with Chelsea FC the season before, which tested his endurance to the limits and left him desperate for an opportunity to redeem himself, salvage his reputation and hug the limelight once again.
Throughout this season he struggled with Manchester United to win matches. It was last Wednesday night that relief finally came through a drab match that did not produce any sparks in terms of the quality of football on display but was such an emotionally draining match that it must go down as one of the most challenging of his coaching career.
With this one small step, Mourinho has turned around his fate and that of Manchester United, and leapfrogged into the future to join Europe’s elite clubs for the lucrative and prestigious Champions League campaign next season.
This year, until last Wednesday night, the great Manchester United FC, regarded as the best club in the world by their fanatical fans, had been going through a drought of trophies.
Before a packed audience of some 50,000 spectators they gave Ajax Amsterdam a lesson on how not to play against a team coached by a Jose Mourinho that is desperate to get out of ‘jail’.
The match itself was a drab affair, with neither side putting up anything that looked spectacular or pleasing to the eye.
In the end, employing his usual legendary ‘negative’ tactics that had won him innumerable trophies throughout his coaching career, Mourinho ‘parked the bus’, funneled his entire team into a defensive channel that shut all routes to their goal, and frustrated an opposition that obviously did not know how to change their ineffective tactics.
Manchester United only occasionally ventured upfront to create or probe for cracks in the Ajax defense, gladly accepting any gifted half-chances.
Deploying typical conservative English style of football, with long, high, hopeful balls launched from defense to attack searching for Fellaini’s head to flick to a lone striker up front, they got two lucky chances, buried both and ‘closed shop’ – end of game! The match had Mourinho’s signature written all over it.
Mourinho’s old, tried and tested tactics worked again like magic. Ajax did not get one clear sight of Manchester United’s goal in the entire 94 minutes of action. Manchester United could have played all night long without conceding a goal. The victory was well earned and well deserved even though the game itself was calling for coffee to keep watchers awake.
Paul Pogba had a hand in the outcome of the match. He scored the first goal through a lucky deflected left footer that would have been, otherwise, easily dealt with by the Ajax goalkeeper. That goal was a relief and face-saver for the player who had been struggling all season to live up to Man United fans’ high expectations and to justify the toga of the costliest player in the world hung around his neck.
Last Wednesday night, the goal he scored was crucial. It calmed the nerves of his Manchester United teammates paving the way for the team’s eventual success. So, he gets listed for accolades rather than the questions and debates that had plagued his return to the team through most of the season.
Moreover, because he just returned from burying his father and playing in that match, Paul Pogba enjoyed a temporary emotional respite from fans, and escaped the usual critical scrutiny of his overall performance that will surely continue to be his burden to bear for as long as he remains in the EPL, a league totally unsuited to his style of play.
The reality is that Paul Pogba is a great player, but his kind of football will flourish more in the Italian and French leagues than in the physically bruising and 1000 kilometres per hour pace of English football that will always diminish his effectiveness and make him look clumsy, slow and not as good as he really is.
In Italy or France he will find the space and time to express himself on the ball and display the immense skills that he has and loves to put on display match after match,
In my humble opinion, Pogba has not been a great investment to Manchester United, weighted against his overall performances throughout the season.
His talent is without question but by his own standards whilst in Juvehe has grossly underperformed for Man Utd.
It does not take a special lens to see the difference between the Pogba of Juventus FC and the Pogba in Manchester United. It is clear.
Pogba is an elegant, graceful football player, majestic and masterful on the ball given the space and time to do his shuffling and dancing on the ball, and delivering clever ‘killer’ passes that cut open defenses. In tight or crowded situations he is ineffective.
He saunters around the field always in a gentle trot as if the world is in his pocket, always calling for passes, always delaying the ball a second too long before he releases it, always trying to show off his dribbling skills every time he gets the ball, only occasionally doing the quick one-two passing movement, always trying to be clever and creative with every move and every ball at his feet. Without possessing the quickest of feet he would need to change his style of play and take a cue from N'golo Kante’s style of play in Chelsea in order for the EPL to become the platform upon which he will become the player he can be – one of the best in the world.
So, as we await the commencement of the most important match of the season coming up mid-week between the two biggest and best teams in the world this season, in the finals of the UEFA Champions league, we have the memories of Jose Mourinho, Manchester United and Paul Pogba celebrating their lucky get-out-of-jail card last Wednesday night in Stockholm, to sustain us till then.
What a European Champions league final match that will be
Who do I put my money on to win?
Juventus have the team, Real Madrid have the individual players.
My head tells me it will be Real Madrid, whilst my heart tells me Juvewill return the best of European football to Italy once again!