Fighting off speculation of a summer exit amidst a turbulent relationship with his boss, it’s no surprise that Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba has had his fair share of aggravating moments these last few weeks. The one-time world’s most expensive player has made every effort to separate his form from his price tag, but at times it doesn’t seem to be enough to solidify the approval of the managerial staff, in particular one José Mourinho. With every week come new questions about Pogba commitment to his current club, his fitness and if he can carry the Red Devils to another domestic trophy. More recently, the 24 year-old had to defend rumors of animosity between his teammates. While it serves as yet another talking point for pundits, it’s discomforting as a fan to witness a team that was essentially constructed around his return slowly collapse week by week.
As an attacking midfielder, Pogba has been responsible for much of United’s success this year. Whether it’s setting up the perfect assist, or breaking ankles on the counterattack, the former Juventus star has established a well-deserved reputation as one of the best players in his position. Just this week on international duty, the Frenchman helped les Bleus cruise to an easy 3-1 win over Russia. With an assist and a goal to his name, there was no denying precision in Pogba’s form against the World Cup hosts.
The Red Devils resume Premier League action this weekend, hosting Swansea City in what should be an easy three points for Mourinho’s men. Prior to the international break, questions of Pogba’s dedication began when an unsettling trend of early substitutions and snarky post-match interviews overshadowed conversations of his action on the pitch. For an individual like Paul Pogba, who has earned a reputation for playing so well in his most favored 4-3-3 lineup, high standards are met with little patience. If you can’t perform at the quality that’s expected, you have a front row seat on the bench. Unfortunately, that’s the reality when you play for a dynamic club like Manchester United.
What’s furthermore unsettling about the Pogba-Mourinho feud is the unwanted involvement of his teammates. Assuming this serves an effort to coax his star mid into finding his all-star form again, the Special One has promoted Scott McTominay to a starting role as of late, and the response has been deafening. While expected to start against Liverpool earlier this month, fans were shocked to see that the starting XI showed the Scotsman assuming the midfield duties over his more experienced teammate. Shortly after United earned three vital points to keep them at second place, The Times actually revealed that McTominay clipped Pogba with his cleat, consequently leaving a serious enough bruise to keep him on the bench.
To be clear, McTominay’s clash with Pogba was accidental.
Nevertheless, McTominay’s incredible showing these last several weeks has unintentionally categorized him as the anti-Pogba, a prestige that is not only inaccurate but also absurd. Sure, Pogba’s illness and sudden cramps have played in the favor of the 21 year-old, but that certainly should not elicit the response that he could harbor malicious thoughts towards his own teammate.
United will most likely be without a dedicated no.10 until the summer transfer window, so perhaps Mourinho should offer Pogba a chance to return to a post he perfected at Juventus. Even though McTominay is finding his niche as first-team player, his offensive limitations have not gone unnoticed. The most desired choice is to play both players, and positioning McTominay as a defensive midfielder alongside Pogba and Nemanja Matić alleviates Pogba of some (not all, obviously) defensive responbsibilities. In the interim, this allows Pogba to retreat to a familiar yet modified no. 10 role, with surely more freedom to join the attack.
While not the season you or I imagined, the reality is that Manchester United have only one chance at hardware this season, the FA Cup. With that being said, it’s about time Mourinho start using Pogba in a manner that leads United to a championship at Wembley. In the past, the international break has been derided as an ill-timed blow to impressive form or even worse, an injury producer; however, the time away for both Mourinho and Pogba has temporarily suppressed rumors of a summer divorce (until Saturday, at least) and the discussion has shifted to Pogba’s return to form. There are few Premier League players who have made quite an impact on their club quite like Paul Pogba, and soon enough any doubt of his devotion to both club and country will be a distant memory.