The Ball Is In Pogba’s Court
At first, it seemed like another typical ‘Jose Mourinho versus the biggest player in his dressing room’ type of spat, but Paul Pogba undoubtedly needs to do more at Manchester United. Standing in at 1.91 metres tall and with strides as long as a Monday, the Frenchman has the ability to dominate every opponent he comes up against, and it is this that frustrates his manager but be careful to not read too much into their recent quarrel.
Although Pogba put on some great shows since his return to the Red Devils, in a transfer that, at the time, made him the world’s most expensive player, the 24-year-old hasn’t really got out of second gear, has he? He’s had his moments, sure. Clever skills, a couple of textbook through balls and a few stunning finishes, but there’s a widespread feeling among supporters and pundits alike that the midfielder can contribute a large amount more. He needs to lift his game. He does need to prove he was worth his enormous price tag.
On Sunday against Chelsea, Pogba played in a three-man midfield, a system that brought the best out of him at Italian giants Juventus. Pogba’s defensive frailties have unquestionably been laid bare in recent weeks, which is a job I’m not sure his own fans want him doing anyway. Many coaches and supporters hold on to the belief that if the player doesn’t suit the system, it is he who must go. But such a belief should not be entertained by a player as talented as Pogba! When he’s on song, he is a huge benefit to United and a threat to any rival, which we saw in moments last season and earlier on in the current campaign.
In recent weeks, Pogba and Mourinho seem to have butted heads over the player’s role in the side, most noticeably in the Red Devils’ 2-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur at the end of January, where the pair had a very public disagreement. Pogba walked over to Mourinho during a delay in the game, only for the two to argue back and forth, and for the manager to leave the scene fuming. The midfielder, who perhaps didn’t adhere to instruction, was taken off not long after their obvious dispute, which was the first time he was substituted off in a Premier League game since he re-joined the club. Pogba was then named on the bench against Huddersfield Town three days later, while he was taken off once again against Newcastle United the following week. Media speculation on 1... 2… 3… To say there’s smoothing, or was something, in the air is not speculation, but it’s Pogba’s response that is now most important. I’m sure his pride has taken a knock, but his reaction to this will determine just how far he can go in his career. It’s huge!
The Frenchman started by making a good account of himself against the Blues this past weekend, where he played alongside Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay in midfield. In the midfield trio, Pogba advertised bright moments of creativity and was often the chief link between midfield and attack. And, at last, he walked off the field having got the better of his countryman N’Golo Kante! Pogba tracked runners in midfield when he needed to and even made a couple of vital tackles, though going forward was where he was most effective. I also noticed how much more focused he looked on the field, as well as disciplined.
The key word is ‘disciplined’! Fans want to see Pogba leave the pitch looking exhausted, looking as if he couldn’t have put in a tougher shift. I, and presumably many others can’t help but feel that Pogba’s off-field activities with sponsors and his own brands might affect what he does on the field. In the modern day, with social media being the world’s biggest marketing tool, top players are vulnerable to distraction. Why else would Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola ban phones from being used in his side’s dressing room? We don’t want to see pre-match selfies. I think in Pogba’s case especially, supporters simply want him to look like he cares more. Although, it’s also that blasé attitude and how easy he makes the sport seem at times that we love.
Although he was good against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, it’s now time for Pogba to start controlling matches. It’s time for him to only allow the game to be played at his tempo. His United colleagues need to be able to rely on him producing something special when nobody else is up for the challenge. That’s what he was lured back to the club for after all! Mourinho has admitted to being impressed with Pogba’s professionalism during this tough spell, praising him for how quick he was available to come off the bench against Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League.
So again I stress, don’t read too much into Mourinho and Pogba’s altercation. It’s simply a case of a manager wanting a player to realise his prodigious potential, to maximise his gift, to become the best at his trade. Being knocked back down to the earth is the best thing that could have happened to Pogba. The greatest and most talented footballers in the world never stopped working!