Having dominated all season, the story of 2017-18 was set to have the perfect ending for Manchester City, with victory against rivals Manchester United enough to confirm the title.
Having lost to Liverpool in the Champions League days earlier, Pep Guardiola was confident his team would react positively, but just in case they needed a further advantage, he attempted to unsettle Paul Pogba before kick-off.
The Spaniard said that Pogba had been offered to City in the January transfer window by his agent, Mino Raiola, which is a pretty remarkable claim. And also, highly unbelievable.
Raiola hasn’t kept his feelings on Guardiola a secret in the past, repeatedly criticising the manager in the harshest of terms. Just last month he called him a “coward” and a “dog”, seemingly still bitter by the way he perceived the City manager’s treatment of his player Zlatan Ibrahimovic when at Barcelona.
It’s difficult to believe that this same agent would approach Pep and offer him another player. Aside from the fact Raiola doesn’t like the City boss, he would have to know there wouldn’t be the slightest of chances of United ever selling Pogba to City, let alone halfway through a season.
Pogba took to social media to give his reaction to the story, with a picture of himself cupping his ear and the caption ‘Say what?’.
Yet it wasn’t just Guardiola who was talking about Pogba before the game, with former United players Gary Neville and Paul Parker making equally as ridiculous claims.
“Can Pogba become the player he wants to be?” Parker asked. “He can but his priority has got to be his football – that should stick out more than his hair. It’s fine to have all the haircuts and emojis and whatever but to earn all that go and do your talking on the pitch. His first priority when he’s asked what he wants to be and replies that he wants to be the best player in this team is to say, ‘well forget your hairdresser for a while’.”
Imagine suggesting that a footballer can only get the haircut they want if they are playing well week in, week out. Imagine believing that football wasn’t his priority simply because of his hairstyle.
Say what? 👂🏾 pic.twitter.com/FGCGFqAe64
— Paul Pogba (@paulpogba) April 6, 2018
The notion that a player should get a short back and sides, unless they’re enjoying brilliant form, is just plain odd. He’s not missing half-time team talks to get his hair cut or turning up late to training with his hair in rollers, he’s going to the barbers in his free time like every one else.
What difference does it make what style he chooses? To claim that Pogba has to earn the right to get his hair cut as he likes is just weird.
When Jose Mourinho speaks about the player, as he did a few weeks ago after Pogba had been dropped from the starting line-up, he had nothing but positive things to say about his attitude to the game.
“Paul had a very professional behaviour,” the manager revealed. “The week was not different to what Paul is every week. He works well, he’s a good professional. He likes to train. I’ve never had a single problem with him.”
Maybe Parker knows better? Yet he isn’t alone with this assertion, with United fans among the many people to support this idea. He should quell his personality and get the haircut the fans deem acceptable, until he’s done enough on the pitch to afford him the apparent masses of attention his hairstyle courts.
For international duty, Pogba dyed his hair blue and white to reflect his national team’s colours. He somehow managed to score in France’s 3-1 win over Russia though, with his elaborate colouring seemingly not doing the damage people claim it does.
Days later, he turned up the Etihad with the same blue hair and Neville couldn’t get his head around it.
“He’s got a big job to do, he’s got to be serious about football,” the former United captain said. “Coming out here with blue hair today, win and it’s fine, lose and it will be talked about forever more by City and United fans. It’s ridiculous.”
United went in 2-0 down at half-time and Pogba had a poor 45 minutes. Fans took to social media to pat themselves on the back for being right about the impact Pogba’s hairstyle was clearly having on his game. He was obviously not taking the game seriously, as demonstrated by his hairdo.
Then he scored two goals in 97 seconds to draw United level and the penny finally dropped for some. The conclusion is so obvious. All of United’s players should dye their hair blue, as a player’s choice of hairstyle clearly determines how they play, and this is why Pogba was able to drag United back in to the game. Right?
Or maybe, just maybe, footballers, like all people, should be allowed to leave the barbers looking however they like and it will have no impact on their day to day performance in their job?
After the game, Rio Ferdinand spoke in defence of his former teammate.
“Paul Pogba was the talk before the game and he went on to make sure he was the talk after it, for the reasons he so desperately wants them to be,” Ferdinand said. “Flashy hair and being seen to enjoy every bit of life is just the way Paul Pogba is and that’s his choice, so it must be respected.”
For whatever reason though, there are lots of middle-aged men who are obsessed with Pogba’s style.
When analysing Pogba’s match-winning performance on Match of the Day, it was his hair that Gary Lineker and Frank Lampard first discussed, before his game saving goals.
Pogba has a personality. He enjoys expressing that through his clothes, his hairstyle, his celebrations, and a whole host of other things that manage to rub lots of people up the wrong way.
Fans want him to be the next Paul Scholes, but that doesn’t mean he has to be a right boring bas***d. “Get up. Go to work. Play the game. Get showered. Go home.”
We can love Scholesy without thinking that his personality is the only acceptable model for a world-class midfielder. He didn’t earn being shy and retiring any more than Pogba should earn being flamboyant, it’s just who they are.
Still, the next time Pogba has a poor game, no doubt it will be the haircut at fault again, or his dancing, or his social media account, as people continue to long for a player with the personality of stone.
The truth is, the French star doesn’t have to do anything to justify being who he is, any more than any other person does.
And if you’re waiting for him to tone it down, you’ll be waiting for a long time, so embrace who he is and enjoy it.