First TeamOpinionPaul Pogba

The Paul Pogba Problem – Stay or Go?

Paul Pogba
Image credit: Getty Images

Mercurial midfielder Paul Pogba is one of the most talented players of his generation but has yet to deliver on a consistent basis for Manchester United. His barnstorming performance in the opening game of the 2021/22 season against Leeds saw him register 4 assists. This was more than he managed throughout the previous season. This highlights his inconsistency in a United shirt. The club is now in a difficult position due to Pogba entering the final year of his contract. He may elect to leave Old Trafford for free for the second time in his career.

Juventus swooped in for a young Pogba in 2012, after the Frenchman became frustrated with the lack of playing time at the Theatre of Dreams in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. Mino Raiola orchestrated Pogba’s move to Turin, which saw Pogba’s status increase rapidly in the European game. He starred alongside the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal in a free attacking midfield role. His impressive performances on a regular basis for Juventus, saw the midfielder attract interest from a host of elite European clubs. In 2016 he got his big move as he returned to United. The Pogback hype was palpable. It seemed an elite player would be available for the club for the first time in central midfield since Paul Scholes’ prime almost a decade earlier.

Pogba celebrating with a dab at Juventus. Image credit: Getty Images

Inconsistent Form

Pogba started his second stint at United promisingly. There was the memorable Europa League / League Cup campaign under Jose Mourinho. It seems it could have been the beginning of another trophy-laden period for United. Gradually the squad harmony under the Portuguese tactician was to breakdown. The most notable fallouts being between Mourinho and Shaw, as well as Pogba. The undoubtedly talented Frenchman began having less impact in the United engine room, with him seemingly sulking during games. This culminated in him being replaced by the more industrious Scott McTominay in the centre of the park.

Whilst his performances dipped, rumours emerged linking Pogba to a move away from the club. The strongest rumours suggested that Frenchman would link up with his boyhood idol, Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid. Had Mourinho not been sacked by United in December 2018, Pogba would have almost certainly departed in the summer. However, the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjær seemed to reinvigorate the player.

Freed from the defensive tactics deployed by Mourinho, Pogba was talismanic for United during the 2nd half of the 2018/19 season. He was arguably the most in-form player in Europe. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on whether hindsight is applied, Pogba’s form began to dip in Ole’s first full season as United manager.

The midfielder was also once again being heavily linked with a move away from Old Trafford. The player himself stating his desire for a new challenge, whilst promoting Adidas products in China. Inconsistent form, coupled with consistent rumours of an impending transfer fueled by super-agent Mino, forced United into the transfer market.

The Arrival Of Bruno Fernandes

The search for a more consistent and dedicated creative midfielder led to the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting. The Portuguese Magnifico has since gone on to be, arguably, the most influential addition to the team since the arrival of King Cantona. Bruno is now cemented in the United team in the ‘Number 10’ position. This has forced Pogba either to be deployed as part of a defensive double pivot or on the left-wing occasionally. Neither role is ideally suited to Pogba and, as such, his form and confidence began to dip again and the player was often restricted to a position on the substitutes bench.

Fernandes and Pogba in action at Old Trafford. Image credit: Getty Images

Pogba – The Creative Force

However, Pogba’s performance versus Leeds, showed how impactful the Frenchman can be when played in a role that makes the most of his world-class technical ability and incredible vision. Solskjær played Pogba as part of a fluid front four, alongside hat-trick hero Bruno Fernandes; Mason Greenwood; and Dan James, with the ‘McFred’ combination providing defensive cover in an energetic double pivot. The work rate of Fred and McTominay behind Pogba allowed him to put all his energy into creating chances for the attackers alongside him, which he did to devastating effect.

Solskjær’s tactical alterations to the United team, in the absence of Marcus Rashford who recently had a shoulder operation, saw Pogba focus on being the creative force in the final third. While Bruno looked to utilise his goal-scoring ability playing as a second striker. The combination play between the two was mesmerizing at the time. Pogba looked more like the player that has enjoyed major successes with the French national team and Juventus.

The performance against Leeds will show United the urgency to sign the Frenchman to a new long-term deal. There is bound to be huge interest in Pogba this season from across Europe. He is free to talk to other clubs about potential contract terms from January 2022. The negotiating teams should be able to offer Pogba massive wages, due to the absence of a transfer fee.

Does Pogba Have Ambition To Play Elsewhere?

The general feeling around Pogba is seemingly negative for United, with former captain, Gary Neville, stating the following on Sky Sports: “Manchester United need one outstanding season from Pogba because he is going to leave next summer. I think Pogba will be excited by the team United are building but he has a decision to make. Does he want to commit his future to Manchester United? If it’s a new contract, it will be for three or four or five years. And that means the best years of his career will be at Manchester United.

I think Paul Pogba has the ambition to play somewhere else – and that’s been clear for the last couple of years. His agent has told us that and I think he will take that opportunity. I think right now he will be thinking, ‘I like this team but I do want to go to Real Madrid or Paris.”

Should United Do All They Can To Make Pogba Stay

Despite the pessimism around the Pogba situation, there is still hope that United can tie him down to a long term deal. The progress under Ole is clearly evident, with the exciting youthful attack pointing towards a bright future at the club, especially in the attacking third. The addition of fellow Frenchman, Raphael Varane, from Real Madrid is another factor in United’s favour. It is believed that the compatriots are good friends.

Whether or not Pogba signs a new deal is still unknown, however, what is known is that the Frenchman is an elite talent. He would improve any team in world football. The impact he has on the pitch is often ignored due to the antics of his agent. The media circus Mino brings with him, which is something both United and future prospective employers will have to endure if they want Pogba in their playing squad. ‘

Manchester United should, in my humble opinion, do all they can do to keep him at the club. Unfortunately, I agree with Neville and believe that this will be Pogba’s final season at the Theatre of Dreams. Losing Pogba once for free is not ideal, losing him for free twice is a tragic example of mismanagement at board room level.

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