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Paul Pogba’s Big-Game Experience and Academy Roots Key for Mourinho | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho and midfielder Paul Pogba. (AFP)

London – On a sunny morning at Georgetown University José Mourinho is discussing why Paul Pogba can be Manchester United’s driving force in the Champions League, how “it is difficult to like players” as he does his squad and the rare sadness felt when Wayne Rooney left for Everton.

United are back in Europe’s elite club competition after Mourinho led them to a Europa League triumph last season, defeating Ajax 2-0 in the final. Speaking before United’s training session at the university’s Shaw Field, the manager believes Pogba’s experience in some of the world’s biggest matches will be vital for the forthcoming campaign.

“He played Champions League final, Euro [2016] final with France, Europa League final with us, so he has played three finals in Europe, all that he can play,” Mourinho says of the 24-year-old former Juventus midfielder. “He is probably the oldest guy of the young guys, of that group that comes from the academy. He is still an academy boy, he is still the guy that his relationship with the club and the structure, his relationship with the people in the club is still the relationship of the kid that was here. So I think he has a fantastic role to play with us and much more ready to do it than last season.”

While the homegrown contingent includes Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Axel Tuanzebe, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Demi Mitchell, Mourinho speaks tenderly of his whole squad. “I like to work with them, I like to live with them and I like them,” he adds. “That is something during your career that does not happen every season. It’s difficult to like players the way I like these guys. It’s difficult to like them all. In teams there are always guys you like a lot and some others that you don’t enjoy so much. You don’t like their personality. But these guys are phenomenal, to live with them is phenomenal.”

Despite that, Mourinho suggested his squad may lack the stardust present at other clubs. “I keep saying the same thing: we are not the best squad in the world and don’t have the best players in the world – or if we do, then we have [only] some – not eight or nine or 10 like some other big clubs have,” the 54-year-old admits. “But I like them.”

Rooney left for Everton in July as record scorer with 253 goals after 13 years. “I miss the guy a lot,” his former manager says. “I’m not the kind of guy that gets normally emotional in my job and I did it with him when he left. But I am sure that he’s going to be very, very good for Everton and Everton is going to be very, very good for him. At his age [31] with his genetic [makeup] of his body, with his personality, too, he’s the kind of player to be less motivated, not so happy because he’s not playing every minute. So he deserves that respect from us – if you want to go we have to make it easy for you to go.”

Mourinho is concerned at the high fees paid for what he describes as middling footballers in the £30m-£50m price band. While Neymar is reported to be close to joining Paris Saint-Germain for a world record £199m, this summer Manchester City have bought the right-back Kyle Walker for £50m, the goalkeeper Ederson for £34.9m, the left-back Benjamin Mendy for £52m and Bernardo Silva for £43.6m. United have, however, paid £31m for Victor Lindelof.

“I don’t think the problem is what you pay for Pogba, I don’t think the problem is going to pay crazy for Neymar,” he says. “The problem is with the other group [lower band], which is a big group because players like Pogba, you buy once and there is one or two [big] transfers per transfer window. The other ones is where you have 100 transfers – that is the dangerous area of the market and when some clubs are paying or they don’t buy because they don’t accept the numbers that are now ruling the market, or to do it [because] they have to go the same levels, for me that’s what worries because now we speak about 30 40 50 [million] in such an easy way.”

Mourinho also suggests the football authorities may need to scrutinize how some clubs operate financially because they may use “strategies of disguise”.

“I don’t think it [the market] will ever kill the big clubs because the big clubs will always have the potential and conditions to produce this kind of money and not to be in problems. Some other clubs, there will be problems when they realize [what] the money is coming in and going out. I also think the financial fair play authorities, they have big work to do. Big work to do because probably there are some strategies of disguise but I have to believe that the financial fair play is going to have difficult work to do.”

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