Paul Pogba’s current injury has dragged on so long that I, one of Pogba’s staunchest defenders, have started openly questioning what the hell is going on. Pogba limped off the field at Saint Mary’s back in August, with a limp that looked a little exaggerated heading in to an international break. He returned to the pitch in September for matches against Rochdale and Arsenal but hasn’t been seen since.
In November, Pogba gave an interview where he said he had 10 more days with his foot in a cast, and then there would be two weeks of rehab until he was back. The cast came off on Monday the 11th of November, meaning the two weeks of rehab would have ended the day after the match against Sheffield United.
And yet, where is he? It’s been two weeks since his self-proclaimed two weeks of rehab have concluded and Pogba has yet to even make a matchday squad for United.
Pogba’s had his detractors during his entire spell at Old Trafford, but last summer’s comments about “seeking a new challenge” and his constant social media activity have done him no favors.
As his absence grows longer and longer, and the calendar turns closer and closer to January, the idea that Pogba is simply keeping himself out of the team to try and secure a move to Real Madrid keeps gaining more and more steam.
There is of course a non-zero possibility that a deal has been worked out between United and the Spanish giants that would see Pogba head to Spain in January. If that were the case, then Pogba taking time to ensure he is 100 percent recovered before stepping back on the pitch makes all the sense in the world.
There’s just one problem. The narrative that Pogba wants to leave makes no sense as soon you as you look at the way Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been treating him.
Since arriving at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s policy about transfers has been clear and consistent. If you don’t want to be here, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Furthermore, if you don’t want to be here then I don’t want you anywhere near my team.
This policy has been even more prevalent since the summer. During the pre-season tour Solskjaer isolated want-away Romelu Lukaku, refusing to play him and often making him train away from the rest of the squad.
Matteo Darmian wasn’t even taken to Australia with the rest of the squad. He linked up with the team in Asia and didn’t play in either of the two friendlies he was present for. As Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News said, it probably wasn’t even worth the hotel fare United spent to bring him out there.
Well worth bringing Matteo Darmian out here. Missed first two games in Perth, didn’t get on against Inter and not in the squad today. #mufc could have released him by now but triggered his one-year extension pic.twitter.com/R9rqT5z5fq— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) July 25, 2019
It’s no secret how hard Solskjaer worked to get Alexis Sánchez removed from the team, and if you think his comments in the summer about Alexis having a good year for United meant he was in his plans… well, you really need to learn about how managers speaking to the media works.
Those three players are gone but there’s been another example of this in recent weeks with Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matić.
It’s no secret that Matić did not like losing his first team place and wants to leave. Matić hasn’t said anything publicly about this though, certainly not to the level of “wanting a new challenge,” but his body language tells a different story and there have been enough leaks to the press that we all know this is the truth.
As such, Solskjaer has told Matić to take a hike. He doesn’t want him around the team.
How do we know that? We obviously can’t say this for sure, but if we look at what we do know it paints a pretty clear picture.
Matić’s last start for United came in September against West Ham. After that, he mysteriously disappeared from the team with an “injury.” United’s injury news as a whole this year has been vague but at least for the most part we know what players are out with.
Pogba and Scott McTominay had ankle injuries. Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial had hamstring problems. Axel Tuanzebe hurt his hip. But Matić? There was no mention of his injury… ever.
On November 20th, at the end of the international break, Matić was among four injured reds pictured by the Manchester United official account returning to training. Considering that McTominay had picked up an ankle injury and the Reds only had one senior midfielder available, the timing for Matić to come back couldn’t be better.
In his press conference before the Sheffield United match, Solskjaer described Matić as “fit, but not match fit. So we’ll see.” Matić didn’t even make the match-day squad.
Eight days later, on November 28th, came the story of Matić arriving for training at Carrington only to be seen leaving 24 minutes later. It should be noted that this happened on the same day as the match in Kazakhstan against Astana. Matić wasn’t part of the travelling party even though other senior players recovering from injuries — such as Jesse Lingard, Luke Shaw, and Axel Tuanzebe — were.
Since then Matić hasn’t been mentioned in Solskjaer’s press conferences and hasn’t been listed as injured either. He’s simply just, not there.
Now, juxtapose that with how Solskjaer has been treating Paul Pogba. Solskjaer can’t wait for Pogba to get back and he’s welcoming him back with open arms.
“Obviously Paul will regain his place in the team, he’s one of the best players in the world.” “He’s nearly there, he’s out on the grass enjoying himself so we’ll see.” “You’re allowed to be injured.” Those are all quotes to describe how Solskjaer speaks of Pogba.
If Pogba was trying to leave, this isn’t how Solskjaer would speak about him. This is especially true given the recent emergence of Fred in United’s midfield, making the team less reliant on the Frenchman.
Last week French news outlet L’Equipe ran an article about how Pogba was “hell bent” on leaving Old Trafford. At the start of the article they mentioned how Pogba lost sensory feeling in his ankle after the Arsenal match. That’s a big deal! It’s an uncommon injury, with an unclear timetable for recovery. It makes a lot of sense that this is taking a while and it makes even more sense that United are giving him all the time he needs.
I’ve always said that Pogba isn’t unhappy at Manchester United per se. He’s not actively trying to leave, it’s just that if Real Madrid came calling he would certainly go.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spent years under Sir Alex Ferguson. He saw first hand how Ferguson treated players who weren’t committed to Manchester United anymore. It didn’t matter how good or how important you were, if you didn’t want to be here anymore, you were gone.
That’s the same attitude Solskjaer has towards his players. We’ve seen examples of it over and over again, and none more clear than the other wantaway senior midfielder in the squad. If Pogba didn’t want to be here, Solskjaer would be treating him the same way he has treated Matić and the others.
That in itself should tell us everything we need to know about Pogba.