In case you missed it, Manchester United won on Monday. They started 2018 with a bang, overcoming a difficult run of results by beating Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park. But given the way Jose Mourinho ranted his way into the headlines straight after the game by calling out Paul Scholes you would be forgiven for having forgotten of United’s win.
Scholes had questioned Paul Pogba’s performance in the 0-0 draw against Southampton two days earlier, using his platform as a BT Sport pundit to ask whether the Frenchman has been doing the kinds of things he should be doing for the Manchester United cause since returning from Juventus in August 2016.
He asked whether Pogba was being played too deep, claimed he too often overplays in the centre of the field and added that: “he probably does the best things in every game of football he plays in but he outweighs it with the bad things he does.”
The United legend even wondered aloud whether the training regime Pogba has been given at United suits the £89.5 million midfielder before concluding that Mourinho has simply been using him incorrectly.
“He doesn’t look anywhere near as fit as he did at Juventus,” claimed Scholes. “I wonder whether he’s training properly, whether he’s looking after himself. Is he doing the right thing? He’s looking half the player now, is it because of the role he’s being asked to do? I probably think so. He’s more of a player who will win games for you, and that’s what you pay £90m for.”
Scholes may have been better concluding his assessment in his head before spraying out a string of theories on air, but ultimately he had every right to project his opinion. But Mourinho’s decision to attempt to tear apart Scholes when asked about Pogba’s improved performance in Monday’s win was unbecoming of any football manager, let alone a Manchester United manager.
“I think the only thing Paul Scholes does is to criticise,” blasted Mourinho. “I don’t think he comments, I think he criticises which is a different thing… Paul [Pogba] tries to do his best all the time. Sometimes he plays very well, sometimes he plays well and sometimes he doesn’t play so well. It’s not Paul’s fault that he made much more money than Paul Scholes. It’s just the way football is.
“But I think Scholes will be in the history like a phenomenal player, not as a pundit, so I prefer to look at him as a phenomenal player who gave so much to the club that I am proud to represent. If Paul one day decides to be a manager I wish that he can be 25% as successful as myself, because 25% of 25 is around six. So if he's 25% he’ll be quite happy.”
Getting involved in tit-for-tat might serve as a timely distraction in some cases but Mourinho has long since overused such a tactic. The same man who regularly admonishes the press for asking about the side issues rather than the football itself was all too quick himself to make a saga out of comments which had already been answered in Pogba’s performance.
The 24-year-old had teed up goals for Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard as part of a dominant personal display in the second half at Everton as United stepped up to the sort of level they had failed to reach in some weeks. In terms of answering Scholes’ questions about his fitness and ability to affect a game, Pogba had already gone a long way to doing it.
Mourinho will never be as big a fan hero at Old Trafford as the likes of Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville even if he spends 10 successful years with United, and the Portuguese knows that. So he will not be the slightest bit perturbed by the fact some supporters will side with Scholes on this argument. But it just comes across as petty to even react to the comments of somebody whose word doesn’t mean an awful lot in the club’s inner sanctum these days.
There were better ways for Mourinho to stick up for Pogba. He could easily have praised his player for his match-winning performance without digging out Scholes for his decision to focus on punditry over a serious tilt at management. In fact, had he just praised Pogba and moved on then there would probably be a lesser spotlight on the midfielder the next time he pulls on the red shirt.
Mourinho is not even the first United boss to waste energy getting into a battle with Scholes, with his predecessor Louis van Gaal having claimed that some fans were only complaining about his side’s style of football because the former midfielder had blasted it “boring, sideways football”. And as Gary Neville rightly pointed out this week, it just comes across as odd that a manager should find offence from a pundit’s musings.
“One thing we have seen a lot more of is managers and players responding to things out of their control and I actually find it quite funny,” Neville told Sky Sports. “Everybody is a bit sensitive and touchy these days.”
Given the fall-out this week, it is probably a blessing in disguise that Friday night’s FA Cup third-round clash with Derby County at Old Trafford is United’s first non-televised game in the competition since 2005, meaning there is no airtime to be filled in the moments before and after the game with ex-players being begged for opinion.
But United will always be the subject of conversation and conjecture in the media, and Mourinho well knows that. It would just be a better use of his and everyone else’s time if he allowed the football do the talking rather than entering into pointless spats, regardless of whether he’s right or wrong.