You could almost hear the collective sniggering from Manchester United’s rivals when Paul Pogba signed for the Reds for a whopping £89 million this Summer.
It was a win-win for the haters as even if the former academy player was a success, United had still forked out the best part of £100 million on someone they could have kept for free if Sir Alex Ferguson had been able to bury the hatchet with the midfielder’s agent, rather than simply wishing to bury a hatchet into the agent’s head.
Most United fans didn’t care about the fee, it was just a relief to actually see the club sign a midfielder during a transfer window who wasn’t Marouane Fellaini, but it didn’t take long for some Reds to join their rivals in taking Pogba’s arrival and subsequent performances to ridiculous extremes when it came to commenting on them.
Returning home from Old Trafford following Pogba’s –second- debut for the Reds against Southampton, I decided to see what the reaction on social media had been to what I considered a solid performance against a fairly lacklustre side.
It amazed me to see how it had taken literally seconds of the match for fans from other clubs to write Pogba off as a failure following a poor touch, whilst as he grew into the game, United’s supporters were crowing how he was undoubtedly an £89 million bargain, presumably due to the way he bossed a midfield containing the mighty Oriol Romeu and Steven Davis.
Since the game against the Saints the ‘Paul Pogba story’ has been one that’s often clouded by extreme views, unreal expectations and nonsensical criticisms, it’s as though far from being levelled, the playing field has been carpet bombed into an unfathomable mess, making it almost impossible to grasp a meaningful analysis of just how the midfielder has fared since he arrived back at Old Trafford.
Pogba’s first two games saw United pick up six points and while it would be overstating it to claim the midfielder was the reason behind the Reds’ success, he did play his part breaking up the opposition attacks and spreading the ball around with aplomb, it wasn’t long though until his detractors, who’d been foaming at the mouth like a rapid greyhound in the traps, had an excuse to unleash their vitriol.
The games against City and Watford which both ended in defeat after abysmal performances gave United’s rivals a reason to start revelling and top of their list was the record-breaking midfielder, as they declared two poor games had determined Pogba was not only a failure of Stone Roses Second Coming type proportions but would never possibly be able to turn his career or the Reds’ season around.
The doubters were a tad hasty and were made to eat their words as the former Juventus man helped to demolish the champions at Old Trafford with a dominating performance, topped off with a well taken goal and some sumptuous through balls that deserved better finishes, it looked as though the Reds and their marquee signing had well and truly clicked although as seems to be the norm for much of this season for every side bar Chelsea, a ray of light was followed by darkness that in United’s case looked to cast a shadow over any chance of a title challenge.
One win in the next eight games saw many Reds looking for someone to blame, while rival rans rejoiced in the end of United’s title chances and pointed the finger at the one player they knew would wind up the Old Trafford faithful the most- the £89 million man who was now surely a complete disaster after failing to drag his side from the quagmire of seven disappointing matches.
Part of the reason Pogba was such a source of criticism and ridicule wasn’t just his price tag and the demands that go with it, but also his style of play which at times veers between lackadaisical and greedy, a horrible Nani-shaped trait supporters both inside and outside Old Trafford could happily throw their venom-filled denigrations at.
Pogba’s cause wasn’t helped during that run by Mourinho’s dithering on where to play his prized-asset who at times was deployed just off the striker, whilst at others seemed to be given the instructions to sit in front of the back four, neither of which got the best out of him, another problem for the £89 million man being his desire to try and do everything on his own, take on that next player, keep hold of the ball that little bit longer, find that killer pass when the simple one is on.
In many ways it’s part of the football equivalent of a deviancy amplification spiral, fans/pundits/the media criticise Pogba, it sells papers, rival fans love it and the player feels the need to do more in his role to silence it - resulting in him doing the very things- keeping hold of the ball that bit too long, trying too hard to beat too many players- that cause the criticism in the first place.
Pogba can be frustrating to watch but that’s only because he’s trying to do more than just the simple things which at times is all he needs to do, it’s a problem with an easy fix and one that’s already going someway to being rectified as Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera dominate the defensive midfield duties, in a perfect combination of assuredness and energy, throw the rejuvenated Anthony Martial and the world’s greatest player Henrikh Mkhitaryan into the mix and Pogba has the ideal chance to get back to what made him such an effective player in the first place.
Sunday’s win over Spurs saw Pogba getting back to basics after his disappointing performance at Goodison Park, doing the simple things which often go unnoticed but are essential to any thriving midfield, his physicality was also more than needed against a side that wouldn’t look out of place wrapping a chair round someone’s head to the tune of Sweet Caroline at an Anthony Joshua fight, plus let’s not forget a free kick that’s still rattling the Old Trafford crossbar as we speak.
It’s natural that fans expect a lot from a player that cost £89 million but we have to be patient and remember what type of midfielder United have signed, comments such as “he’s only scored two goals this season” are baffling as he’s never been much of a goal scorer, even in a dominant Juventus side Pogba’s ratio was less than one in four, whilst the 25 chances he’s created should have led to more goals, but that’s hardly his fault, do we really need reminding how wasteful the Reds have been in front of goal?
Unless he dominates every game the Reds most expensive ever signing is always going to be vilified in certain quarters but as we see the team getting its collective act together and the pressure ever so slightly being relieved from his shoulders, there’s every chance it will be Pogba and United fans who’ll be having the last laugh this season and for many more to come.