Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho talks to Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku during the English Premier League soccer match against Liverpool at Old Trafford. Photo: AP Photo

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is playing hardball with stars like Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw because he doesn’t think player power can get him the sack at Old Trafford.

Bolstered by a new contract signed in January, Mourinho is convinced he has the full support of United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the club’s board which means any dressing-room dissenters will be forced out before him.

Mourinho has gone to war with some of his players in the last few weeks.

He has dropped his most expensive signing £89million-man Pogba and hooked England defender Shaw at half-time against Brighton last weekend with the withering explanation: ‘I wanted to defend better.’

United players have noticed the friction between France international Pogba and Mourinho with the pair rarely engaging.

The midfielder is believed to be fuming over his treatment and a clumsy attempt to interrupt Mourinho’s TV interview after their victory against Liverpool failed to amuse the manager.

International managers rarely get involved in club issues but French coach Didier Deschamps let the cat out the bag over Pogba’s current mental state by stating: ‘He cannot be happy with what he is going through with his club.’

There is also a widespread feeling of major changes at Old Trafford this summer with even big-hitters Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Chris Smalling under threat as Mourinho tries to close the gap on Pep Guardiola and Manchester City by playing more football from the back.

Ordinarily, Mourinho’s ‘my way or the highway’ would be viewed as a huge risk given that he has twice been sacked by Chelsea for falling out with his squad. 

United have spent more than £300m on players since Mourinho was appointed in 2016.

Yet Woodward, having previously given the manager’s job to David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, is having to put all his eggs in the Mourinho basket — particularly as the 55-year-old was preferred to Guardiola because of his previous Premier League experience.

Although United finished sixth last season, Mourinho was rewarded for getting them back into the Champions League via the Europa League by extending his contract in January to keep him in charge to at least 2020.

Despite anxiety from some people at United that Mourinho is poisoning the club’s name, Woodward is understood to be happy with the manager and intrigued by the aggressive way in which he goes about his business.

He is looking to reshape his defence and midfield this season and will demand improvements from January signing Alexis Sanchez, who is expected to provide the firepower alongside Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.

Douglas Costa, Ivan Perisic, Danny Rose, Brazil midfielder Fred and Patrick Kluivert’s son Justin have all been linked while Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar may also want to leave French football this summer.

Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind are all also likely to depart.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Los Angeles Galaxy last week and club captain Michael Carrick has announced his retirement from playing at the end of the season when he is set to join Mourinho’s coaching staff.

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