Having made a great start to the 2017-18 season, before his lengthy injury, Paul Pogba is struggling to hold down a place in the Manchester United starting team after a period of poor form and injuries. Only two players have assisted more goals than him in the league this season, evidence of his capabilities, but in recent months he’s looked a shadow of the player he is at his best.
His season hit a new low on Tuesday when he came off the bench to try and make a difference in United’s round of 16 Champions League game against Sevilla. With half an hour left to play and the scoreline at 0-0, Jose Mourinho turned to his most expensive player to change the game in place of Marouane Fellaini. Less than 20 minutes later, United were 2-0 down.
It would be inaccurate and unfair to blame Pogba for this negative turnaround although he was certainly no improvement on the player he had replaced. As the game went in to injury time and United had pulled a goal back, needing a further two in order to progress, Pogba picked up the ball in his own half. He showed no urgency as he began to bring it forward, before kicking the ball out of play. He was under no pressure yet still failed to complete the simplest of passes to Romelu Lukaku ahead of him.
Pogba with a perfect pass to Nissan Company? pic.twitter.com/892UAQalX0
— The Blues (@TheBlues___) March 14, 2018
The Frenchman was carrying an injury, having missed the Liverpool game days earlier after picking up something in training and being ruled out by the medical staff, but that is no excuse for failing to get even the most basic of things right.
In United’s next game, the 2-0 win over Brighton in the FA Cup, Pogba was an unused substitute.
Mourinho is right to demand more from the midfielder given his potential is so clear.
He is capable of changing games but far too often over the past few months he’s gone missing, playing far too casually and having little impact on the game.
Reports suggest that his agent, Mino Raiola, is trying to get a move for his player away from the club, although will likely be more subtle about it than he has been with past moves, given that he represents Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Romero and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The agent will pocket another extraordinary sum if Pogba does sign for a new club.
These stories are in contrast to what Raiola has publicly said though, with him denying there was a problem between the manager and player at the beginning of the month.
“If things weren’t going well than I’d be ready to do my job, which is to find other solutions for the club and the player,” he said. “There’s no war with Mourinho though, Paul wants to win with Manchester United.”
Having made the decision to return to United to prove a point, it’s understandable that Pogba wouldn’t be ready to give up on the club yet. While scoring in last season’s Europa League final was a big moment for him, he obviously had greater achievements in mind when he made the decision to come back to Old Trafford. He won the league every season he was at Juventus, as well as playing in the Champions League final, which is a far cry from what he’s experienced with United.
The same reports claiming Raiola is on the lookout also assert that Pogba isn’t pushing for a move, with him apparently “telling his friends” that he wants to stay and make a success out of his time with United.
For that to happen, there needs to be changes, from both the player and the manager.
Pogba needs to get his head up and play with the confidence he did at the beginning of the season, while also keeping his concentration to get the basics right.
Mourinho also needs to find a way to bring out the best in him, which clearly is not keeping him as part of a deep-sitting midfield two alongside Nemanja Matic. There’s no point having a player with Pogba’s vision and creativity, then playing him defensively, and getting frustrated when he can’t fulfil all that is required of him in that role.
Pogba has a few months until the end of the season to get himself together and show those who doubt him what he is capable of. With an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley to play, as well as eight more league games to help United finish as high up the table as possible, there’s still the opportunity for Pogba to make a difference.
With players like Gary Neville or Ryan Giggs in the dressing room, maybe Pogba wouldn’t have been allowed to get stuck in this rut.
United no longer have the leaders and big personalities who would have been able to put an arm around Pogba’s shoulder, or even give him the bollocking he needs to get back on track.
In the absence of that leadership, Pogba is going to have to shake himself out of it and the responsibility is with Mourinho to ensure that happens. If the manager wants the Glazers to trust him with further funds in the summer, he has to get the best out of the expensive star players the club already has.