Manchester United could have gone top of the table on Monday evening if they had beaten Wolves, but a missed penalty from Paul Pogba meant the game finished 1-1.
There was plenty of fuss after the game over the fact Pogba, and not Marcus Rashford, took the penalty. Pundits and fans were critical of both the Frenchman and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for not ensuring that Rashford was on penalty taking duty.
Gary Neville, in his role as pundit, stoked the fires, labelling Pogba as selfish and feeding his ego. He also said it was embarrassing that a club like United didn’t have it set in place the penalty taking hierarchy.
However, it’s important to remember that even during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at the club, namely after Cristiano Ronaldo left, we went through seasons of uncertainty. Neville played in those teams.
Michael Carrick took and missed a penalty against Burnley at the start of the 2009-10 season. After the game, Ferguson said he was “surprised” that Wayne Rooney or Michael Owen didn’t take it.
Rooney was then out on penalty taking duty from that point on but wasn’t playing against Spurs towards the end of the season. When a penalty was awarded, Nani picked up the ball to take it, but Ryan Giggs outranked him and took it instead, despite not having taken a penalty in a match since missing against Southampton in 1992. Half an hour later, we won another penalty, and he took that too, saying it was his decision as “captain and elder statesman”. But clearly, no instruction had been given from Ferguson.
Nani took the first penalty of the next season against Fulham and missed. After the game, Ferguson said Giggs probably should’ve taken it. Again, no formal plan.
Still having failed to learn, at the start of the 2012-13 season, United won three penalties in the opening month of the season, three different players took them (Van Persie, Chicharito and Nani) and all three missed. After Nani’s failed attempt against Fulham, which cost us the win, Fergie said he thought Van Persie should’ve taken it.
Regardless, even though Fergie was disorganised in this regard, Solskjaer will likely have a more definitive plan going forward, rather than just letting Rashford or Pogba pick between themselves in the moment. But that isn’t on Pogba. That isn’t his responsibility.
Rashford played down the incident in his post-match interview, but that didn’t stop supporters taking to social media to abuse Pogba, with some of that coming as racist insults. This is completely abhorrent and unacceptable.
Phil Neville is among the people claiming that footballers should come off social media until fans learn to treat them properly. Of course they will come in for stick when they make mistakes or play badly, but the levels the abuse is reaching now is ridiculous.
Rashford responded to the abuse on Twitter, imploring fans to pack it in.
“Enough now, this needs to stop,” said Rashford in response to a story on the racist abuse Pogba suffered. “Manchester United is a family. Paul Pogba is a huge part of that family. You attack him, you attack us all.”