Paul Pogba patted the badge on his Manchester United jersey and told the team’s jubilant supporters not to believe what they read in the newspapers.
The France midfielder took centre stage in United’s comeback win in the Manchester derby last night as he denied City the chance to win the title against their fiercest rivals, and left no one in doubt about where his loyalties lie.
Pogba was thrust unwittingly into a storm ahead of the game when Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said in a news conference he was offered the chance to sign the midfielder in January by the player’s agent, Mino Raiola.
Pogba’s immediate response to Guardiola’s explosive comments was a tweet: “Say what?”
Then he let his feet do the talking.
By scoring two goals in the space of two minutes, Pogba sparked United’s revival from 2-0 down in an extraordinary 3-2 victory over City at Etihad Stadium.
“I don’t speak to him about what Pep told and Raiola told,” United manager Jose Mourinho said. “I am not interested if it was Pep right or Mino right. I’m not interested.
“All I know is that Paul played well against Swansea [last weekend] and Paul had a very good week of work. Especially Tuesday and Wednesday, he had two fantastic training sessions. Of course, two goals for a midfield player, especially in a big match like this one, stays in the memory of the people.”
The game bypassed Pogba in the first half. He was constantly caught out of position by City’s quick and elusive midfielders and his control let him down on occasions, not befitting a player who cost a then-world record fee of £89 million in 2016.
He stepped up after half-time, though, breaking into City’s area to score in the 53rd and 55th minutes and being a central part of a much-improved United performance. He played like he had a point to prove.
“I didn’t want to lose against City,” Pogba said. “If they won, they are champions. For all the fans, it would be like death. To lose against City and to see them celebrate, I couldn’t let that happen.”
After the full-time whistle, Pogba exchanged a few words with Guardiola then headed straight to United’s traveling contingent.
“I congratulated him for the result,” Guardiola said, when asked what he said to Pogba.
Before yesterday, Pogba started only five of United’s last 12 games, with Mourinho sometimes preferring youth-team graduate and new Scotland international Scott McTominay ahead of his more illustrious colleague.
More displays like his in the second half, and Pogba won’t be dropped so quickly.
“He needs that confidence,” Mourinho said. “I know, he knows, everyone knows, he had some performances not at the level of expectations we have for Paul.”
And as for the alleged talks between Guardiola and Raiola, Mourinho added: “If the accusation from his agent is that he wants to go to other clubs, his price has gone up.”
City looked on course to wrap up the Premier League crown with a record six games to spare as they swept into a 2-0 half-time lead at the Etihad with goals from Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan.
Their advantage should have been greater as they wasted a hatful of other chances, with Raheem Sterling particularly guilty, in a first half that seemed embarrassingly one-sided.
But Pogba, sporting a sky blue streak in his hair, led a revival with two goals after the break before Chris Smalling snatched a winner.
It seemingly remains only a matter of time before City, who are still 13 points clear, take the title but the manner of the loss was shattering coming soon after Wednesday’s Champions League defeat at Liverpool.