Graeme Souness has been involved in a weird obsession with Paul Pogba for several years now, with him taking every opportunity possible to criticise him. Initially, it probably went under the radar, even though he was saying very odd things.
“I want to see Paul Pogba do what Fellaini does: pop it off nice and simple,” Souness said in September 2017. “He’s got technique. He’s a bit of a YouTuber, isn’t he?”
At the start of the following season, Pogba captained United for a 3-0 away win over Young Boys in the Champions League. He scored twice and assisted the third. “I bet he is a really nice guy but I wonder if he treats football as a bit of a joke,” Souness assessed after the game. “I wonder if he trains properly every day, that is a stab at the dark at something that could improve.”
Seven months before Pogba scored in the World Cup final, Souness was still at it. “This isn’t me being an ex-Liverpool player caning a Man United player,” he claimed. “I thought the same when he was a Juventus player. That is basic stuff you learn in the youth team. When is he gonna get it? He hasn’t taken a big game by the scruff of the neck and dominated it. He hasn’t got a basic understanding of his position, I can’t see that changing.”
The timing was strange, even without the hindsight of knowing what Pogba would do in the summer, as three days earlier he had played a pivotal role in United’s 3-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates, assisting two goals. He’d also scored three goals in eight league appearances (none from the penalty spot) and was playing really well.
Souness reiterated his point about Pogba not knowing his position, in a Sunday Times article dedicated to the Frenchman a few weeks later, leading people to begin to sit up and pay attention to Souness’ strange criticism. Five months before the World Cup, Souness claimed he was “a country mile from being a great player”.
Pogba’s blue hair sent Souness under on derby day, with City set to win the league with a victory over us. Pogba scored twice to draw us level in the second half before Chris Smalling scored the winner, leaving City’s “We did it on derby day” t-shirts in a box and the club removing their fireworks from the roof. Souness was likely hurting as much as City fans that day.
Ahead of United’s 2-1 win over Arsenal, where Pogba scored the opening goal, Souness claimed he wasn’t judging him “unfairly” and that he would be “frustrated” if he had to manage him.
With the World Cup in full swing, Souness urged Didier Deschamps to drop the midfielder because “you can’t trust him”, again claiming that Pogba “still doesn’t understand the midfield role properly”.
Pogba’s rousing pre-match team talks were shared on social media, with the French squad, some much more experienced than him, having clear respect for the midfielder. When you’re going in to the World Cup quarter-final, semi, and final, you’re not going to listen to a player who shouldn’t be trusted.
Still, hours before kick-off before the final, with Souness ready to die on that hill, he was still dishing it out. “I’ve been a critic of his and I wouldn’t back off the things I’ve said about him while he’s been a Man U player,” he said. “He’s indisciplined and that’s the kindest word I can say about him.”
N’Golo Kante was subbed off after 55 minutes, having only completed eight passes and winning one tackle, and Pogba still managed to shine. With France leading 2-1, the next goal was vital, and it was Pogba who scored it. His finish from outside the box was the first goal in a final from this distance since 1982.
All this said, I’ve barely scratched the surface on the long list of scathing attacks Souness has offered Pogba.
Given that Souness’ rage over Pogba has become a meme, the club’s official podcast asked Pogba this week what he thought about the criticism aimed at him by the former Liverpool player.
“I didn’t even know who he was, really,” Pogba said. “I heard he was a great player and stuff like that. I know the face but [not] the name. Like I said I’m not someone that watches a lot of [punditry], I watch a lot of football but I don’t stay after the game to listen to what they say about why they did this, or why they did that. I like to focus on football.”
He wasn’t making a dig, he was just answering the question honestly. And why would he have heard of a player who retired before he was born in a different country?
For all the fun and headlines, it’s worth pointing out Pogba wasn’t making a dig at Graeme Souness, he just gave an honest answer.
— Sam Homewood (@SamHomewood) April 14, 2020
Souness, unsurprisingly, couldn’t respond quickly enough. “The oldest saying in football comes to mind: ‘Put your medals on the table’. I’ve got a big table.”
At Pogba’s age, 27, Souness had won two league titles and one European Cup. In contrast, Pogba has won the World Cup (scored in the final), four league titles, two Coppa Italias, one Europa League (scored in the final) and one League Cup.
And you can only imagine what Souness would have to say about Pogba if he punched someone and broke their jaw in a Champions League final, as he did in 1984. The irony of Souness labelling Pogba “indisciplined”!
Still, it’s not over yet. Robbie Fowler is the latest former Liverpool player to take a swing at Pogba, claiming he was “disappointed” that he hadn’t heard of Souness when he first came to England.
“I was disappointed to hear the Manchester United midfielder slap down my former Liverpool boss by saying he doesn’t even know who the outspoken Scottish guy in the studio is,” he said. “If he doesn’t then perhaps he should do a bit of background.”
Really? Is Souness such a household name in world football that players who weren’t even born when he stopped playing the game should have heard of him?
Does Fowler know the names of the Ajax and Bayern Munich players who won multiple European Cups and league titles in the early 1970s? I doubt it.
Their desperation to sling mud at Pogba is just plain weird. You can understand that their growing worry that their 30 year wait for a league title isn’t about to come to an end, with Covid-19 potentially voiding the season, might force them to look elsewhere to vent their frustration, but seriously lads, get a life.