Mourinho says Paul Pogba's critics envious, short of money

LONDON: As the world's most expensive player, Paul Pogba can't escape the limelight.

Especially not when Manchester United flashes promotional adverts for his Twitter emoji on pitch-side advertising and a fluorescent yellow "P'' is dyed into the side of his head.

But the midfielder's influence on the field will always be measured against his price tag: 105 million euros (then $116 million).

Jose Mourinho, though, is ordering the critics to lay off Pogba and dismissing their right to say anything remotely negative about the France international.

Jealousy is the only reason anyone would question Pogba, according to Mourinho.

"I feel that the world is losing values and we all know that," Mourinho said Wednesday. "Envy is coming into certain levels that I am scared with, especially with the next generation if things go in this direction.

"It's not Paul's fault that he gets 10 times the money that some very good players did in the past. It's not his fault that some of the pundits are in real trouble with their lives and they need every coin to survive and Paul is a multimillionaire. It's not his fault. I think he deserves respect."

It was a disproportionate response to a journalist's question about Pogba's impact on a team that is sixth in the Premier League. But it came from a manager renowned for his ability to deflect the focus from his team's struggles with outlandish statements.

When United played Chelsea in the FA Cup on Monday night, only one French midfielder shone through and he was wearing blue. In the summer transfer window, N'Golo Kante cost Chelsea around 30 million pounds (then $40 million) — a fee that is looking like a bargain compared with Pogba's world-record signing.

Kante scored the goal that sent Chelsea into the FA Cup semifinals after Pogba failed to close down his compatriot. And the statistics from Opta highlighted Pogba's peripheral role at Stamford Bridge. While the diminutive Kante produced 70 passes, Pogba only managed 27. Pogba also only achieved a 27 percent success rate in duels while Kante's doggedness saw 79 percent of duels won.

And while Kante is set to win back-to-back Premier League titles after being a key component in Leicester's astonishing success last season, Pogba will have to settle with second-tier successes. United has already won the League Cup and only remains in contention for the Europa League, with a Round of 16 game against FC Rostov locked at 1-1 heading into Thursday's second leg.

In the Premier League, where Pogba has only clocked up three assists and four goals in 25 games, United is 17 points behind Chelsea.

Mourinho is clear: Don't blame Pogba.

"I'm very happy with Paul, the club is very happy with Paul," the Portuguese coach said. "A good thing is that because of his personality he doesn't give an (expletive) to what people say."

There are few players who go through a bitter divorce with a club like United and return four years later.

The academy graduate left when his contract expired after falling out with then-manager Alex Ferguson with only seven appearances as a substitute to his name. Pogba flourished in Italy with Juventus and Mourinho was determined to open his reign by bringing one of the game's brightest talents back to United.

"(He is) a kid that came to Manchester as a teenager, that fought for his career here, that was not afraid to move and go to another country and to look for better conditions for him," Mourinho said. "A kid that reached the top of the world with his work. Nobody give him anything."