Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has hit back at the mounting criticism being heaped upon Paul Pogba, saying the France midfielder is the victim of jealousy from former professional players now working in the media.
Pogba has been under an understandably intense spotlight since his world record £89.3 million ($108.9 million, 102.4 million euros) pre-season return to United from Italian side Juventus.
In recent weeks his form has been widely criticised, especially after Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final loss at Chelsea where Pogba seemed to shoulder much of the blame for what was just United’s second defeat since early November.
But Mourinho has launched a passionate defence of Pogba, still only 24, and insists his strong personality means that he ‘does not give a ‘s'” about his critics.
“It is not Paul’s fault that he gets 10 times the money some players did in the past,” Mourinho told a news conference on Wednesday ahead of the second leg of United’s Europa League tie against Russian side Rostov at Old Trafford on Thursday.
“It is not his fault that some pundits are in real trouble with their lives and need every coin to survive and Paul is a multi-millionaire. It is not his fault.”
“I think he deserves respect, I think his family deserve respect.
“He is from a working family, a family with three boys and I am sure they need a lot of food on their table each day because they are all giants so I am sure that the mum and dad had to work hard for many, many years for them.
“A kid that came to Manchester as a teenager, who fought for his career here and was not afraid to move and go to another country (Italy) and look for better conditions for him, a kid that reached the top of the world with this work, nobody gave him anything.”
The Portuguese manager added: “So I am really, really worried with the previous generations that things are going in such a direction that envy is everywhere.
“And I am very happy with Paul and the club is very happy with Paul. And because of his personality he doesn’t give a ‘s’ to what people say.”
The disappointment of losing at Stamford Bridge — in a last-eight tie which featured the controversial sending off of United midfielder Andre Herrera — was compounded by former Chelsea manager Mourinho’s current side facing travel problems on their return to Manchester.
A delay to the team plane arriving in London meant Mourinho and his squad were forced into a long coach trip north which saw the team arrive back at their home base at 4:00am local time (0400 GMT), eight hours before their next scheduled training session.
But Mourinho believes such adversity can bring United — and supporters — closer together.
“The only thing I can tell you is that my players did what everybody could see on the Monday night and Tuesday 12 o’clock (1200 GMT), they were here to train again as they great professionals they are and the great commitment they have and the fantastic group of boys I work with,” said Mourinho.
“We had one ‘gift’ and we thought one ‘gift’ was enough and we thought two was too much and then the third ‘gift’.
“The first ‘gift’ was to play Monday and then the next ‘gift’ is 10 men and then third was to have a promenade on the M6 (motorway), but we are professional so the next morning we were here to train and the same today and tomorrow (Thursday)
“The fans will give us this extra energy so we believe that tomorrow we can cope with the situation and fight to be in the quarter-final.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is available for the second leg against Rostov, with United having drawn 1-1 in Russia.
However, fellow strikers Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney are both injured as United try to take another step towards winning the Europa League and qualify for next season’s Champions League.