We must confess, we’re not really sure where to begin. On the back of a forgettable season for both player and club, it is nigh-on impossible to tell whether Paul Pogba’s personal malaise is a cause or effect of United’s more general difficulties. We were expecting him to take a little time to adapt (or perhaps re-adapt) to Premier League life, but we certainly didn’t think it would take quite this long. We’re now forced to confront the scary possibility that this really is it.
To be sure, this writer doesn’t think those baying for his blood are exercising their judgement particularly strenuously, and doesn‘t yet advocate packing him off to Paris Saint-Germain. But next season Pogba needs to become a more consistent performer. There have been times this season where he’s turned in masterful displays — the kind we were accustomed to seeing during his time at Juventus — but they’ve been too rare to be relied upon.
The addition of box-to-box workhorse Fred should help rectify the midfield’s more structural problems, but ultimately, and in the time-honoured tradition of the old-fashioned English manager, this writer thinks Pogba needs to get a grip, son. JS
Paul Pogba should be Manchester United’s best player. Frequently last season, he wasn’t. Paul Pogba should be — as a midfielder who came through the youth ranks — the natural choice to succeed Michael Carrick as club captain. Frequently last season, when United were crying out for leadership on the pitch, he was found wanting. After a mixed first season, 2017-18 was supposed to be Pogba’s coming out party. Now we’ll see the real Pogba! Instead, the same doubts have only been amplified.
The Frenchman has become a divisive figure among Manchester United supporters, and the question of “Do you rate Pogba?” has now come to embody all sorts of other questions as well; How you value the club’s traditions? What you think of the manager? How much you value entertainment versus end product in football? Are you a racist with a bizarre agenda (looking at you, unnamed former Liverpool player turned pundit)?
Pogba turned in some exceptional performances last year. But too often, he has looked uninterested during games, and has a tendency to stay in cruise control when playing lesser teams - games in which United lost too many points last season. For this, he bears some responsibility. But that said, would any of us — never mind if we were as wildly talented and expressive as Pogba — want to play in a team as joyless as Mourinho’s? Pogba needs to buck up his ideas, but there’s a well-paid man whose job it is to get the best out of the players, and it would be nice if he bucked up his ideas as well. BM
This writer agrees with everything written above, but would like to take a moment and think about the broader picture. This will be José Mourinho’s third season at United. This is when everything started to go wrong at Chelsea the second time around, and he — like most managers these days — doesn’t usually last much longer.
This relates to Pogba because Pogba is the favourite to be the catalyst. The author of the disappointing performance that sends Mourinho over the edge; the target for the unfair criticism that fractures the squad; the player who decides “you know, this is meant to be fun.” However it comes, it’s coming. Pogba will be in the middle of it — he‘s too good, too important, and too symbolically potent for it to be anybody else. And you need to start thinking about which side you’re going to pick. AT