Paul Pogba is one the most of unique footballers in the world. A multi-faceted midfielder capable of breaking through the lines while boasting the touch and passing range few can match, so much has been written about the Frenchman since he returned to Manchester United in 2016. Most of it has been unfair.
Question marks about his attitude and application have been raised throughout his second stint at Old Trafford which always felt like far too simplistic an explanation as to his struggles to match his form with Juventus.
Still, it’d also be foolish to suggest the problems he’s endured have all been down to reasons outside of his control. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Pogba hasn’t lived up to the hype on an individual basis and there have been structural problems around him.
Indeed, Pogba can be a magician, as he’s currently proving with the French national team at Euro 2020. The problem is, United haven’t had an identity since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sure, there has been a slight return to some of the attacking football the club are famed for under the stewardship of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but, even then, much of their play seems to be based around a counter-attacking system, rather than complex attacking plays.
Where Pogba seems to succeed, is in a team with a strong and sound defensive structure, using his wide skill set to pick out onrushing full-backs and the forward line, as he did in Turin and during France’s 2018 World Cup win.
United may technically be a counter-attacking team at the moment but, despite the £80m signing of Harry Maguire, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that they’re particularly defensively sound.
When given the ball with little in the way of coordinated attacking runners off of him, Pogba can look laboured in possession (as most players would) and, as a natural consequence of teams sitting back, there is generally little room for him to run into.
Certainly capable of finding passes not visible to many players on the planet, he is far from a limited footballer. He’s a footballer who works best in limitations, adding a touch of genius to a solid side with great individual quality.
On paper, that’s exactly the type of player who would excel under Jose Mourinho, though the Portuguese did not appear to be able to handle the United dressing room. Sadly, with his future currently uncertain as he winds down towards the final year of his contract, United fans may never get to this magician’s greatest tricks.
Footballing finances look in a relatively bleak state after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented most of Europe and beyond being able to watch games in person and, as a result, top players his age are left with little option than to wind their deals down.
At 28 and on huge wages, the idea that any of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain or Juventus would be willing to offer a massive fee before even taking into account his contract seems far-fetched.
With that in mind, United are in a difficult position. Although selling him to another major rival would see the club lose face (particularly after failing to win anything truly considered elite with Pogba in the side), watching him walk away for free next year would be equally as unpalatable.
All of that makes it difficult to see Pogba actually staying at United, unless the club give into Mino Raiola’s demands and offer a contract approaching the type Alexis Sanchez was on during his own miserable stint at the club. A new £400k-per-week contract has been rumoured but surely is too much even for a club of United’s size in the current climate. Should Pogba leave, it’d be United’s greatest waste.
Granted, some level of responsibility should he be put on his shoulder but to never give a player of his talent the best chance of proving his worth is of huge negligence. Aside from a dramatic second act in his second stint at the club, there has been a failure on both sides.
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