Following Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Southampton in their last game of 2017, Paul Scholes was very critical of Paul Pogba when working in his role as pundit for BT Sport.
The Frenchman had an unusually awful game and was too often seen strolling around the pitch instead of dictating play the way he usually has done this season.
“Where’s the Paul Pogba we saw at Juventus?” Scholes asked. “He was all over the pitch, he was tackling, he was fighting, he was sprinting to people, he was scoring goals from 25 yards out. (Now) He’s just strolling through the game. I wonder whether he’s training properly, whether he’s looking after himself. He’s looking half the player now.”
There’s definitely some weight to Scholes’ argument here and it isn’t necessarily coming from a bad place. Pogba has spent much of the season as part of a deep-sitting midfield two, alongside Nemanja Matic, which has largely seen him produce good performances, but not allowed him to shine as much as he did in Serie A.
Scholes is right to question whether this is the best position for him to play. Yet just because Pogba was poor against Southampton, to suggest that he is half the player he was at Juventus is quite a claim.
This season, despite missing 10 of the 22 league games United have played, Pogba has assisted seven goals. Only three players have assisted more, and that’s both Leroy Sane and David Silva with eight, while the talented Kevin De Bruyne has nine. All three of those players have had considerable more time on the pitch than Pogba though.
More remarkable than that is the fact Pogba has gone 435 days since he last ended on the losing team in a Premier League game. He’s played in 34 games since the defeat to Chelsea in October 2016 and United have won 21 and drawn 13. Over this same period of time, United have lost five games without him.
Stats aside, it is obvious what an important player Pogba is for United and clear what impact he usually has when on the pitch.
He is United’s engine and has largely played well this season, after ending the last campaign with a crucial goal in the Europa League final.
Following Pogba’s Man of the Match performance against Everton at Goodison Park, Jose Mourinho returned the criticism on Scholes.
“I think the only thing Paul Scholes does is to criticise,” the manager said. “I don’t think he comments, I think he criticises, which is a different thing, but not every one of us has to be phenomenal, like he was as a player. Paul (Pogba) tries to do his best all the time.
“Sometimes he plays very well, sometimes he plays well, and sometimes he does not play so well. It is not Paul’s fault that he made much more money than Paul Scholes. It is not Paul Pogba’s fault, it’s just the way football is.
“But I think Scholesy will be in the history like a phenomenal player, not as a pundit. So, I prefer to look at him as a phenomenal player who gave so much to the club I am proud to represent and every day I try to do my best.
“In my mind, Paul Scholes a phenomenal player, one of the best players I have ever seen playing in midfield and he gives so much to my club, I only can thank him for that, because the prestige of this club is based on people like him, so successful here.”
Scholes had clearly riled Mourinho with his comments on Pogba to the point where the manager felt he needed to stick the knife in, as he believed Scholes had done the same to Pogba.
Will Scholes be jealous of how much money Pogba earns? It’s unlikely. He won’t crave the attention that Pogba courts with his dancing and haircuts either. But that doesn’t mean that Scholes doesn’t go unnecessarily too close to the bone with his punditry.
United fans will defend Scholes and argue that is because he has such high standards from his time at the club and wants them to be where they were under Sir Alex Ferguson. You can’t question the commitment and love Scholes felt for The Reds as a player and he will be as frustrated as any to see how far they’ve fallen behind City. There is truth to what he says.
Yet when it came to his pal Wayne Rooney putting in dreadful performances week after week, Scholes often would come to his rescue.
People can’t defend Scholes for simply giving an honest assessment of the club when he spent a few years masking the woeful performances of United’s former captain.
Rooney missed a penalty in United’s League Cup defeat against Championship side Middlesbrough, yet when Scholes was asked about the striker’s form, he claimed any centre-forward would struggle to do well in that United team.
After missing an easy opportunity from a few yards out against Wolfsburg in the Champions League, Scholes again rallied behind the player, claiming he still was capable of scoring 25-30 goals a season.
Towards the end of the 2016-17 season, when Rooney’s form suggested he would be lucky to still have a Premier League career, let alone a United one, Scholes insisted that the player should be able to continue playing at Old Trafford if he wanted to.
The list goes on and on. For Scholes to suggest that Pogba isn’t training properly on the back of one poor performance, having spent years defending the below par shifts from Rooney, means Mourinho is entitled to suggest the legendary midfielder isn’t being fair in his role as a pundit.
If Ryan Giggs had been appointed as manager of United, would Scholes be as cutting as he is almost every time he is given the chance to discuss the club?
It’s unlikely, and that’s why it’s difficult to defend Scholes’ apparent honesty, when Louis van Gaal and Mourinho have been on the receiving end of plenty of criticism, of which some has been magnified.
Scholes is a United legend, as Mourinho pointed out, and the fans are eternally grateful for what he gave to the club. But that doesn’t mean they need to lap up his unnecessarily harsh words about United today under the guise he’s just speaking his mind.
United don’t need their version of Mike Summerbee, providing ridiculously biased defences of the indefensible, but there’s also no need for Scholes to search for things to complain about.
Pogba’s had a good season and if he goes on to have an ever better one, you would imagine Scholes will be as happy as anyone at the club. But it will likely mean Scholes will seek out something else to bash United about.