Paul Pogba took barely half an hour to offer his epitaph for Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United career - or so it seemed.
An Instagram post quickly surfaced on the French midfielder’s account, showing him standing moodily, quizzical look upon his face, alongside the message “Caption this!” The post was taken down within 10 minutes although not before it had received nearly 100,000 “likes” and not before it enraged former United player, now Sky TV pundit, Gary Neville, who responded angrily “You do one as well!”
Pogba’s role in Mourinho’s downfall has been well documented and considerable. A very good first season at Old Trafford made way for an indifferent second and the current debacle which can be dated back to the summer tour of the United States.
There, in his first press conference of the new season, Mourinho questioned Pogba’s attitude and asked why the form he displayed in leading France to World Cup glory was not replicated on a regular basis for his club.
That was the beginning of the end of Mourinho’s relationship with Pogba and, certainly, by the end of his reign, the egocentric coach had fallen out with a number of key personnel and, more importantly, their all-powerful agents. But, as he was so quick to become embroiled in the issue yesterday, it is only fair that Neville’s own role - and that of the broader “Class of 92” which he spearheads - is considered when the costly Mourinho era is put under the microscope.
It is a complex issue and one that dates back to the arrival of David Moyes as Alex Ferguson’s successor in 2013, an appointment which saw Phil Neville added to his coaching staff - and sacked by Ed Woodward within 10 months of his arrival. That paved the way for Woodward’s first managerial appointment - Ryan Giggs, another of the class of ’92, who was named caretaker, then appointed assistant and manager-in-waiting when Louis van Gaal took over in 2014. That managerial appointment failed also, leaving Giggs in limbo, with Mourinho unwilling to have him on his staff and Woodward left, effectively, to sack another of Gary Neville’s inner circle.
Over the same period, Neville has astutely positioned himself as the self-appointed guardian of Manchester United, the club, its legacy, and history, and as such has been muted in his criticism of the club’s managers.
Not for Neville the crass line of scattergun punditry that might see him take easy jibes at an under-pressure United manager, not least because of his own disastrous spell at Valencia.
Enter Paul Scholes.
Neville’s closest ally, Scholes has played the role of attack dog, never short of a critical word about United’s shortcomings, faults that usually end up placed squarely at Mourinho’s door.
“It’s always ‘I’,” said Scholes after United played Young Boys last month. “‘I won the Champions League, I won the Europa League’. Last time I looked football was a team game.
“The best teams in the world play attacking football, they play high pressing attacking football. Not many teams play the way he does now. The way he is playing now is looking just out of date.
“Why does he think he needs to remind us what he has won? We all know what he has won, or what his teams have won.”
It is worth remembering that Scholes was talking after United had WON the game, qualifying for the knockout stages in the process.
In contrast, Neville’s criticism has gone wholly in another direction - towards executive vice-chairman Woodward who has sacked his brother Phil and pal Giggs in recent upheavals.
Roy Keane, not one of Neville’s business associates but still a credible United talking head, has taken another approach, perhaps more in keeping with his unpredictable personality - sometimes calling out Mourinho, sometimes Woodward and, most recently, the players.
It has been one of the most intriguing subplots in that most soap operatic of clubs but, of course, begs the question as to what Neville’s end game is.
Certainly, it would not be an overly cynical view to assume that Neville, a businessman with increasing interests and influence in and around Manchester, is seeking an eventual position of authority at the club he served magnificently - as director of football or CEO, perhaps. And, perhaps, with a Giggs or his brother as his manager.
That might be a development that Woodward would appreciate. Having been so heavily criticised by him in recent years, Woodward would be forgiven for wanting to see if Neville can do any better.