Paul Pogba was the last Manchester United player out of the away dressing room at the London Stadium after the visitor's 3-1 defeat to West Ham. The Frenchman was smiling and for a tantalising moment it seemed that he was going to oblige when a group of hopeful journalists asked for a quick chat. Yet after turning to see who was calling his name, Pogba shook his head, laughed and posed a question of his own: "You want me dead?"
Point taken. With José Mourinho already in his seat on the team bus, Pogba’s decision not to delay the journey back to Manchester was probably for the best. He chose to keep walking rather than add more fuel to the fire threatening to scorch United’s season. At the end of a week during which Mourinho told Pogba that he would never captain United again and shared a frosty exchange with the midfielder during training, it felt like a time to close ranks.
Yet it was impossible to read Pogba’s demeanour as a show of support for his manager. His quip about signing his own death warrant served only to underline the discord at United. They are a mess at the moment and after making it clear that no player can ever be bigger than the club last week, Mourinho sent out another message by substituting Pogba in the 70th minute of the loss on Saturday.
Any watching Barcelona scouts would not have been impressed with Pogba’s latest lacklustre display. Mourinho is entitled to argue that the 25-year-old should look at himself before analysing United’s tactics again. Yet while Pogba is not playing like a world champion, his performances are part of a wider malaise at Old Trafford.
It was Mourinho, after all, who set the tone with his grumbling during the season. No manager can criticise his players in public with such grinding regularity and hope to get away with it. Yet it was Mourinho who hung Phil Jones and Eric Bailly out to dry after the Carabao Cup defeat against Derby County last week and the Portuguese who questioned his team's mentality against West Ham.
United have no plans to get rid of Mourinho, and certainly not ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League visit of Valencia, but the negativity is undeniably draining.
United tried to haul themselves back in the game after Felipe Anderson's early goal for West Ham but their football was beige. Manuel Pellegrini's side were rarely in trouble and doubled their lead when Andriy Yarmolenko's shot looped in off Victor Lindelof in the 43rd minute.
Mourinho had dropped Alexis Sánchez and Jesse Lingard from the squad and picked Scott McTominay on the right of a back three. Yet United, who must improve against Valencia, were confused and laborious in their 3-5-2 system. Marcus Rashford halved the deficit after replacing Lindelof but Marko Arnautovic killed off Mourinho's side in the 74th minute.
"If you want the truth I think it was honestly horrendous," Luke Shaw said. "We didn't look like a team today that was going to beat West Ham. I think individually and as a team we were awful. That's not good enough. It's hard to take and we're sorry to the fans for what they saw today. It was not good enough from a Man United team with all the talent we have.
“From the first minute you could see we weren’t winning the second balls and our duels. It’s hard to take. Games like this, we should be dominating, creating chances, showing people why we deserve to play for Man United and that didn’t happen today. It was very poor from us.
“We have to look at ourselves as players. We’re the ones who go on the pitch. The manager isn’t on the pitch, is he? He’s there to put a team out that he thinks can win the game. We had a very strong team. No excuses. As players we weren’t good enough.”
For all that individual quality, United find themselves in 10th place after seven games. They are nine points behind Manchester City and Liverpool, seven behind Chelsea and five behind Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. They are below Bournemouth on goal difference and closer to the relegation zone than first place. Perhaps there is nothing left for Pogba to say. – Guardian service