Paul Pogba’s time at Manchester United has been many things, but quiet isn’t one of them.
The best football players in the world attract attention, and after spending the summer helping France win the World Cup, Paul Pogba had unquestionably become one of the best footballers in the world. As the transfer window closed ahead of the 2018-19 season, United’s squad didn’t look the best, but there was hope that Pogba would carry on his sparkling international football form at Old Trafford and make a tilt for the Ballon D’Or.
A World Cup winner at Manchester United. Managed by (what was supposed to be) one of the best managers in the world in Jose Mourinho.
What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, lots. Mourinho and Pogba bickered throughout the first half of the season, as the Portuguese manager flip-flopped between encouraging and berating his star player. Mourinho seemed to understand that the best version of Manchester United needed Paul Pogba to be at his best, but he didn’t seem to understand that the Frenchman needed to be happy to be at his best.
Looking back, the entire feud probably could have been avoided. There probably didn’t need to be the fuss over Pogba’s Instagram post after United got knocked out of the League Cup. Mino Raiola probably didn’t have to tweet about Paul Scholes and a lack of leaders at United. Mike Phelan and Phil Neville probably didn’t have to get involved either.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can also say Mourinho shouldn’t have given Pogba the vice captaincy, only to strip him of the role later and before dropping him from the side before Christmas. That was probably a bad idea.
It was probably worse he called the Frenchman a virus and then leaked that talk too.
Additionally, Paul Pogba probably should have stopped that “Caption This” from going out on his social media accounts hours after Mourinho was sacked. Adidas Soccer would later explain that “Pogba’s social media posts were a scheduled event, part of a marketing campaign”, but with the benefit of 20/20 vision, Pogba probably should have double-checked their social media work on a morning that important. Especially after all the mess he had using social media on the Old Trafford Wi-Fi weeks earlier.
There was a lot written about Pogba during the first half of the 18-19 season. And not all of it was good.
Which is fair sometimes. Even at his best, Pogba is a curious character. He’s a leader who probably does his best talking off the pitch, cajoling and encouraging his friends before things kick off. He’s a rangy, 6ft 3 mesomorph that occasionally can get bullied off the ball as if he was half that size. When Pogba returned to Manchester United, many fans and football writers believed the Premier League was getting a player who could do nearly everything on a football pitch.
The problem is; just because a football player can do nearly everything, doesn’t mean they should do nearly everything. At his best for France, Pogba is encouraged by the emotionally intelligent Didier Deschamps to play in a fixed role, where he only has to sprinkle stardust on an already competent midfield machine.
At his worst for United, Pogba has to win the ball, find a way to navigate past one rival midfielder, eye up a pass, curse the fact his full back never overlaps, and then often finds himself robbed.
Yes Pogba doesn’t help himself sometimes. Your mileage on his stuttering multi-step penalty technique may vary. He doesn’t seem very interested in defending. He does this thing where he tries to step over the ball and protect it from another player, and he’s given away silly fouls (and got red cards against Arsenal and PSG) as a result. As we said before, sometimes Pogba gets bullied off the ball a little easily, but other times, to even greater annoyance, Pogba enjoys a physical tussle in midfield a little too much, forgetting to pass the ball because he’s enjoying showing off how strong he is.
Paul Pogba was the best player at Manchester United last season.
Maybe not for all of the season (his form took a nosedive once Zinedine Zidane returned to Real Madrid in March), but, for a little bit, there was a spell where the Frenchman looked like the best player in the Premier League. Netting five goals and five assists in the first six weeks of the interim Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Pogba went from the virus in the Manchester United dressing room to the antidote to their attacking woes. Forget Graeme Souness, don’t get too bogged down in how many of his goals were penalties and try to remember those 11 weeks at the start of the year where Pogba was total in his powers. Pogba playing at his best is one of the best central midfielders in the world, a phenomenon who occasionally blurs the realms of football fact and fiction.
There’s this thing Pogba does every now and again where he grabs the ball near the middle of the centre circle, takes two strides and then appears on the edge of the penalty box. You watch him do it and it feels like a film director has used a jump cut and skipped 5 ahead seconds; you shouldn’t be able to cover that much space in so little time, but Pogba does it as if it’s nothing.
There’s another thing Pogba does every now and again with his passing where he looks as if he’s switched the gravity off. The difference between an average midfielder and a good one is the amount of passes they can do. The difference between a good midfielder and a great one is their imagination – maybe they can play it short and thread the needle, but maybe they can thwack it on the half volley, completely redirect the play and get their full-back moving. It’s even better when a player has a low haircut, as you can see the veins in their head pulse and the cogs in their brain spin: “35 yard pass on the half volley? Yeah no problem, mate.”
Some Premier League players get it from A to B. Pogba passes as if he’s trying to warp through the time continuum.
It’s probably not going to work out between Paul Pogba and Manchester United. The prodigal son doesn’t enjoy life at Old Trafford as much we wanted him to. Throughout the 18-19 season, and much of the summer, the Frenchman has hinted at going to either Real Madrid, or back to Juventus. Paul Pogba strikes you as a man who wants to do what’s best for Paul Pogba. He has a mission to make good on. That’s ok. For a bit it looked like what was best for Pogba was coming back to United and turbo charging our midfield. Now it looks like the best thing for Pogba is to leave United and spend the rest of his peak years at a club so he can win a Champions League medal. That’s fine. Winners want to win things and Pogba defines himself as a winner.
But, it would be a shame if the only accolades Pogba got at United were League Cup and Europa League medals (no the Community Shield does not count).
It would be a shame where Paul leaves and people think Mourinho and Souness were right about him.
It’d be a shame if Manchester United brought one of the most happy, fun loving footballers in Europe to Old Trafford, and then three years later he left under a cloud.
Ok Paul, how about this?
Give us one more season. You at your total best. Ours at ours. 100% for 100% and let’s see how good we can go?
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