José Mourinho has claimed to be enjoying his strongest ever working relationship with Paul Pogba, with the Manchester United manager praising the France midfielder for his application since returning from the World Cup – pointing in particular to last Friday's display against Leicester City.
Pogba continues to be an issue for Mourinho following the 25-year-old’s comments after that 2-1 win over the Foxes when he claimed he would be fined for “saying certain things”. Compounded by Barcelona’s rejected bid for him and Mourinho’s assertion that Pogba must treat each match for United with the same intensity as those he played for his country at Russia 2018 the pair have been reported to have a difficult relationship.
Yet Mourinho struck the opposite tone. “The truth is we are together for two years and a couple of weeks and I’ve never been so happy with him as I am now, that’s the truth,” Mourinho said. “I cannot demand more from him, I cannot ask more from him, he came here on a Monday [last week], trained three days – I asked for his support for his contribution in an important match for us when the team had difficulties.
“He did it better [than I hoped] and for more time than we could expect [before being substituted]. When he says he did it for the fans and for the team that is exactly what I want, exactly what I demand from my players. He’s working well, playing well, he does it for the fans, he does it for the team and that’s what I want, to play for the team and I couldn’t be happier than what I am.”
In Antonio Valencia’s continued absence Pogba will retain the armband for Sunday’s trip to Brighton for the 4pm fixture. Asked specifically about Pogba’s claim regarding being fined, Mourinho said: “I don’t care. I repeat: I want him to play well, I want him to [do] for that team, the fans, and that is what it is. He’s working extremely well here but I have to say in his defence, write what you want about him, me, please don’t say lies.
“Don’t put him in a situation that people can think he’s not a polite, educated guy, he is. He never had a fight with me. We never had a warm [heated] exchange of words, everything is respected, I have no problems at all.
"You have to ask Paul [about the fine comments]. I'm here for two years and a couple of months and the only player that was fined was Anthony Martial. So it is not easy to be fined here, so you have to ask him. I'm not going to ask him. I want him to work the way he is doing and play the way he is doing and that's all that matters."
Martial’s fine relates to the forward’s inactivity for over a week following the birth of his child in July. He is not expected to start against Brighton but Mourinho believes Pogba can turn in another impressive performance at Brighton, even if Valencia will resume the captaincy on his return from injury.
“I am very confident but if he doesn’t, that’s football,” said the 55-year-old. “If he doesn’t that’s football. If his objective is to play for the team, for the fans, if this is the objective – he has the right of a bad match, everybody has a bad day and has little ups and downs in the performance level.
"Going back to the question is he the captain? No. Antonio Valencia [is]. Last season we thought he should before the game against Basel. We thought young guy but good personality, made in the academy, normally a starting line-up player – he has conditions to be captain in the future, and in the [thinking] of this he was the captain and will be the captain again. But when Antonio comes back he will be the captain."
Mourinho also stated that Matteo Darmian is not expected to leave the club, with Italy's transfer window closing on Friday.
He said: “I don’t think he will go, and he cannot have any bad feeling towards us because we opened the door for him in case his desire was to go. But it looks like it’s not going to end in a transfer and for me is good news that Matteo is staying. He’s always an option for us, a reliable player, we know that his performance level is that one, we know he always does a job for the team. He’s loved in the group for his human nature, too.”
– Guardian service