MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – AUGUST 11: Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea FC at Old Trafford on August 11, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
Paul Pogba arguably has more natural talent than any of the current United squad players. He is a player capable of improving virtually any team in the world. I was elated and could not believe my eyes to see him holding up the Red shirt and rapping around with Stormzy announcing his return to Old Trafford to the world with a funky haircut. But according to media reports, he’s been eyeing a move out of Old Trafford ever since the day after he signed for the Red Devils, unhappy, shattered and walking on a bed of hot coals.
Both Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have always said the right things about Pogba’s attitude and professionalism. The player himself has never “openly” admitted to wanting to leave – seeking better opportunities is not the same as wanting to leave, it also means the expectation towards his current outfit to do better. Glad I was able to arrest that wishful train of thought before it attached itself to the media grapevine. Besides, the narrative has wildly swung from “He’s going to leave in the Summer” to “United desperately need him” and now the latest being “United don’t need him with Fred and McTominay shining”. United can avoid another case of a lost Ronaldo and the board will never want him to leave considering his financial pull.
To hit the nail on the head, Manchester United will undoubtedly be better with a World Cup winner in the team and as things stand, he’s not for sale. Let’s get back to the brass tacks now shall we?
Season so Far
Pogba had not found the net in five Premier League outings before being ruled out of action due to an ankle injury. His last appearance oversaw a 1-1 home draw against Arsenal on Sept. 30. United have since played 14 games in all competitions and won half of them, losing three and drawing four.
Abject performances in defeat at Newcastle and Bournemouth reiterated why a player of his quality brings more good than harm. Draws against Sheffield United and Aston Villa only reinforced the said argument. Victories against Chelsea (in the Carabao Cup), Tottenham and Manchester City certainly marked stellar performances. United also became the only team to take points from runaway leaders Liverpool in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October, which also came during his absence.
His 5 Premier League starts find two assists to his name, a respectable return in my opinion.
The Injury Conundrum
Media outfits started burning the midnight oil the minute he was out injured. Firstly, lack of clear understanding or communication regarding the details of the injury didn’t help the cause. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club’s medical staff have no issue with his professionalism and commitment to his recovery programme. Despite the player having travelled with permission to continue rehabilitation abroad, focus seems to rest on him shooting hoops. Long standing interest from Madrid and admiration from fellow countryman Zidane adds more fuel to the fire. They are understood to be keen to get rid of players over the next couple of transfer windows in order to free up the wage bill, and James and Bale could both potentially be used in a deal for the French star. Mino Raiola being his agent just makes things worse. His radio silence during mesmerising victories against City and Spurs seemed a bit off script considering how active he usually is on social media.
However, the player is on the verge of returning to the squad and the manager rightly expects him to walk straight into the starting eleven.
Every Rose has its Thorns
Saturday’s win at City emphasised the threat United carry with Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Anthony Martial, in tandem with Jesse Lingard, tearing the champions apart with their pace on the counterattack. Scott McTominay was outstanding at the heart of Solskjaer’s midfield, as was the Brazilian, Fred. However, United still are outside the top four and God knows how badly we need new signings and creative quality in midfield.
Solskjaer claimed last month that having Pogba at his disposal again will be like having a “new world-class signing.” United have certainly missed Pogba’s game-changing qualities, his ability to create a chance with a visionary pass or his box-to-box energy, especially during draws and losses. His physicality and ability to win duels, drive at the opposition with the ball and still produce a quality pass under pressure has always caused panic in the opponent ranks.
What United certainly haven’t missed is Pogba’s habit of failing to track back, his loss of possession in dangerous areas and his frustrating inconsistency. These are the traits that raise questions as to whether United is better off without him. Retaining and bringing the best out of United’s most high profile signing is yet another tricky management challenge for Ole, probably one he can ill afford to mess up.
Perhaps a more advanced free role in attack might suit the player and the help the team better. Under the Mourinho reign and even until recently, Pogba was handed the responsibility of a defensive midfielder, one which seemed too burdensome for him at times. Now with Fred and McTominay stitching up a prolific partnership, replacing Lingard would seem the obvious step, but his contribution at City should not go unnoticed and he played his role with tenacity and industry.
Another criticism remains that he always does well for France but fails to deliver consistently for United. With the likes of Kante and Matuidi providing him cover, he’s free to express himself which is why United need to bolster midfield options very soon in order to avoid losing the player to Madrid having the likes of Casemiro and Kroos waiting to unleash him.
United are clear that they wish to retain his services and have reportedly tabled a new contract. Solskjaer has time and again reiterated the desire to build the team around the superstar while expressing his confidence in him. A shocking stat suggests that as they did under Jose Mourinho, United statistically win more games under Solskjaer without Pogba. They had a 64% win rate without Pogba under Mourinho, compared with 56% with him. It’s 58% under Solskjaer, compared with 45%. Make of that what you will.
Ole’s prerequisites are very clear that a player needs to have the desire to play for the club. I’m sure with how United have been performing recently, the Ole project will find it’s appeal in Pogba, for if not no player is bigger than the club and the incoming funds can be better reinvested. I’m sure Hazard and Courtois will agree that life in Madrid is not all bed of roses and will have it’s own challenges with no guarantee of success. As long as there is desire, he should be retained at all costs for he certainly has world class ability, leadership quality, holds the key to unlocking lesser defenses and the lynchpin in midfield could hold the key to United making top four and going far in cup competitions. He needs to hit his optimum levels consistently and the fans need to have his back at all times rather than get on it.
Only loss teaches us the value of things and losing Pogba for any reason would be a loss to rue for the ages wondering what could have been. The Premier League is yet to be blessed with the ferocious Paul Pogba we are all waiting to see. With attackers in top form and Ole shifting gears, it’s time to unleash a new haircut and it could be time to announce #POGBACK once and for all!
What do you think?