Paul Pogba is never likely to go unnoticed, but Manchester United’s record signing landed in Seville yesterday under more scrutiny than at any time in his Old Trafford career.
The midfielder’s swift return from the unspecified illness that kept him out of the FA Cup win over Huddersfield on Saturday has only added to the sense of intrigue surrounding his recent problems at United.
Despite blaming the player’s loss of form for his decision to drop Pogba and substitute him twice over the course of three games, Jose Mourinho has tried to quell talk of a rift between the two men.
But the manager still faced more questions about the Frenchman and on Tuesday, at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, Pogba needs to start coming up with some answers.
He has not always produced performances befitting a player who cost £89million, certainly not in the bigger games.
A Champions League last 16 tie would be a good moment to do so. But Mourinho said: ‘I don’t even like the fact that the player who cost X millions doesn’t have the same responsibility as the player who cost three times X. The responsibility is for everyone.
‘When I decide a team to play, I don’t look to the age, the salary, the transfer fee, because that’s also not fair.’
It appears that Pogba’s ego has been pricked by the high-profile signing of Alexis Sanchez, hence his demands to play on the left of a three-man midfield.
Off the pitch, his behaviour — described as boisterous at best and childish at worst — continues to puzzle senior players who are not part of his clique with Romelu Lukaku, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.
They cannot understand why Mourinho, a stickler for players taking responsibility, has not come down on Pogba harder. The elaborate hairstyles and handshakes begin to wear a little thin when performances on the pitch are not up to scratch.
The boss discusses the benefits of today’s #UCL training session. #MUFCpic.twitter.com/EsPeJkc1fd
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 20, 2018
Still, no one doubts his ability, least of all Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella who faced him enough times in Italy when Pogba was at Juventus.
‘He is an incredible player, a complete player,’ said Montella. The Italian may also have been joking when he said that Sevilla may have to ‘kill Sanchez or knock him down’ to subdue the Chile star, but United are expecting a difficult challenge.
Five-times winners of the Europa League since 2006, the Spaniards have never progressed beyond the last 16 of the Champions League before and went out to Leicester City at this stage a year ago.
Mourinho said: ‘They can be nice and say we are favourites but that means absolutely nothing.
‘Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals, not the last 16. The quarter-final is the moment where even the teams that are not favourites, which is our case, realise anything is possible.’