Maybe there has been a bust-up. Maybe a fresh faced 21-year-old is better than him. Maybe he hadn’t fully recovered from illness.
Whatever the conspiracy, narrative or truth, Paul Pogba started Manchester United’s Champions League clash with Sevilla on the bench, sat barely a metre behind his manager, and when given his chance failed to galvanise.
Rumours have been abound for over two weeks whether Pogba and Jose Mourinho have had a massive bust-up – ever since the midfielder was hooked seconds after Newcastle had taken the lead at St James’ Park.
A late announcement, hours before kick-off on Saturday ahead of an FA Cup tie with Huddersfield, ruled him out with an illness.
Four days later and 90 minutes before the team sheets were swapped in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium it was revealed Pogba would not be starting once again. Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and academy graduate Scott McTominay were to line up in Mourinho’s midfield.
“Paul gave us some doubts by not playing last Saturday, by his own decision, he was not feeling good.” That wasn’t good for the amateur detectives. To them it was proof the duo were at complete odds.
The tension for 16 and a half minutes after kick-off was akin to that of the immediately aftermath of a fart in a lift.
Then Herrera darted into the penalty box and attempted a back heel, it didn’t come off, and a split-second later he was on the deck throwing his boot away.
The Spaniard’s night was over.
Mourinho looked back onto his bench and was given no choice but to bring Pogba on – the Frenchman already striped off and warming up before the Portuguese had even nodded in his direction.
It was the perfect chance to put rumours to bed and win a Champions League game single handedly – he didn’t.
For the other 30 minutes of the half Pogba attempted to do a bad impression of someone who was barely fit.
Maybe, just maybe the conspiracy was false and Pogba was not ready to start.
The second half saw more stalking around the field going his job respectfully but not of a man worth £90million. The odd pass created a sibilance of danger, most were over-hit or miss-placed.
On around the hour mark Mourinho would have been looking around for a Pogba-like substitution – had Herrera not been knocked down Pogba would have been the man for the job.
There were fleeting moments, squinting through a bathroom window like moments, when Pogba hinted he was a passable version of himself but they were fleeting at best.
Where does it leave their relationship? Probably exactly where it was before.
Pogba is simply out of form, and a little bit ill, and at a moment’s notice that could change and he becomes the world beater of the first half of the season.
But does Mourinho have the patience to coax the best out of him or will.