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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Conte doing well with Mourinho's old crew

Manchester United's Paul Pogba in action with Chelsea's N'Golo Kante
Manchester United's Paul Pogba in action with Chelsea's N'Golo Kante

Antonio Conte and Chelsea made a statement against Manchester United which should make Roman Abramovic and the fans very happy indeed.

They were excellent in the game and I like the look of Conte. He has great energy and charisma and it looks like he is making the decisions at Stamford Bridge, for now at least.

But watching his team dismantle Manchester United, I couldn't help but notice the fact that N'Golo Kante was the bedrock of the Chelsea effort, a José Mourinho player if there ever was one.

It struck me that if you offered Mourinho the Chelsea squad en bloc now, he would take your hand off and jettison Paul Pogba quicker than you could say British transfer record.

I have a little theory about Pogba and how he returned to Old Trafford which doesn't reflect well on Mourinho.

I think Pogba was Ed Woodward's signing and that for the first time in his career, Mourinho allowed someone else to dictate his fate.

Woodward needed some good press. The Glazer family enjoyed years of big profits with Alex Ferguson and their CEO hasn't exactly covered himself in glory trying to replace him.

Unproven

Nor has he done well in buying and selling players and Mourinho inherited a mixed bag squad, top heavy with young, unproven talent and old hands on the wrong side of the age equation. But he got Pogba.

Imagine if that is true. It means that the biggest issue Mourinho is trying to deal with was created by a decision not of his own making.

Pogba is a really big problem. I remember doing some analysis on him for Euro 2016 and nothing I saw in that, or the tournament itself, allowed me to think that he could be the player Mourinho introduced him as when he signed him.

Mourinho stood there telling us that Pogba was the complete midfielder who could do it all.

Did he believe that when he was saying it? I very much doubt it. Mourinho knows football and footballers and he is not stupid.

He also knows that right now, he cannot find a place for Pogba to play which will produce some sort of return on the money they paid for him.

My own opinion is that I would try him where Juventus got the best out of him on the left side of midfield but with licence to roam if he sees an opportunity.

And if that didn't work, I would drop him.

That would be a huge call for Mourinho to make and I don't doubt his capacity to make it.

But the Pogba issue does not exist in isolation and he must also solve the Wayne Rooney conundrum among others like squeezing the best out of Zlatan.

Stories in England suggest that he has told his captain he can go and that may signal the start of some decisive moves from Mourinho.

Last week, I unhitched my wagon from Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool mainly because I thought Mourinho would solve these problems and I still think he is a good enough coach to do that.

I also think he is the best defensive coach in the Premier League and in a season which looks like it is wide open, that quality will be very important over the long run.

I don't envy Mourinho's circumstances. It must have been galling for him that his his squad should be exposed so ruthlessly by Conte and Chelsea.

He's has been working below the limelight, Conte, and I was a bit surprised by how well they played.

But then I thought about the work Mourinho has done at Stamford Bridge, the players he signed and the fact that some of his men are still there from his first visit, never mind his second and deeply controversial term.

I'm sure the irony was not lost on Mourinho that the player who did the most damage to his team on Sunday, Kante, cost about a third of the price paid for Pogba.

In fact, while Woodward was shuttling between Mino Raiola's office and Italy trying to break the transfer record, he would have been much better off travelling down the road to Leicester with a big cheque in his hand.

Kante is exactly the player Mourinho claimed Pogba to be but most important of all, he is Conte's signing.

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