What a sight it was to behold. Paul Pogba, covered in gold paper, dabbing with the World Cup in his hand. It’s the sort of image that boils the piss of middle-aged men across England who have spent all season bemoaning the audacity of the Frenchman to cut his hair and celebrate goals as he wishes. And there he was, on the back of scoring on the biggest stage in world football, rubbing their noses in it.
Ever since returning to Manchester for a record breaking £89 million two summers ago, Pogba has had his work cut out when it comes to answering the criticism from pundits, rival fans and even some sections of United’s fan base.
For many, his decision to post videos of him dancing on social media or dying his hair has been misinterpreted as him not taking football seriously. If he was spotted on nights out drinking or was overweight or there were complaints from the manager that he wasn’t showing up in training, you could understand why people may argue his eye wasn’t on the ball. But the fact that he likes to have a bit of a laugh away from the pitch shouldn’t be translated as him not taking his career seriously. Mourinho has regularly praised the effort the Frenchman puts in at Carrington.
In December, just days after Pogba claimed two assists in United’s 3-1 win against Arsenal at the Emirates, former Liverpool player and manager, Graeme Souness, claimed Pogba would never be a great midfielder.
“Where I question him, whether he’ll ever be a top player, is his understanding of the game,” he said. “This isn’t me being an ex-Liverpool player caning a Man Utd player. I thought the same when he was a Juventus player. He hasn’t taken a big game by the scruff of the neck and dominated it. He hasn’t got a basic understanding of his position, I can’t see that changing.”
In January, Souness claimed that Pogba was a “young man lost in the game” and said the midfielder didn’t know what he was doing when he was on the pitch.
In February, he claimed that Pogba was “a country mile from being a great player”. He went on to suggest that Pogba should only play against weak teams but should be left out for the big games. “You cannot rely on him,” he said. “Against the lesser teams you’ll get away with it, but against the better teams you’re not going to. He plays like a schoolboy running after the ball in the playground.”
Souness and the rest of the anti-Pogba brigade first ended up with egg on their face back in April when Pogba showed up at the Etihad with blue hair on the back of international duty. A victory for Manchester City that day would have seen them win the title and at 2-0 up at half-time, it looked like only a matter of time until one of the most humiliating days of United’s history became immortalised.
However, 10 minutes in to the second half, Pogba had scored twice and United were level, the second of which came off his blue-haired head. Chris Smalling went on to score a third and United won.
Still, some pundits just can’t get over their Pogba obsession, with Souness top if the list.
He’s spent his summer berating the midfielder, only pausing on that line of attack when blaming Jose Mourinho for all of Pogba’s supposed failings. With France on a mission to win just the second World Cup, Souness claimed that manager Didier Deschamps should drop the midfielder.
“He should draw a line under that,” Souness advised. “You can’t trust him as a central midfielder and, ultimately, that’s how Deschamps will see it. He could use Pogba as an impact substitute. If you’re 1-0 up, you’re not bringing him on to close the game down. If you’re chasing the game, he might do something, but still doesn’t understand the midfield role properly.”
Pogba has played well this summer, especially in the big games, and put in a great display in the semi-final against Belgium. Kylian Mbappe has shone at this World Cup and has been aided by Pogba’s excellent passing throughout.
Hours before the final, despite Pogba’s impressive performances during the tournament, Souness had to dig the knife in one last time. “I’ve been a critic of his and I wouldn’t back off the things I’ve said about him while he’s been a Man U player,” he said on beIN Sports as his role as a pundit. “He’s indisciplined and that’s the kindest word I can say about him.”
One of the features of this World Cup, particularly when England have played, is for the broadcasters to show the reaction of the pundits to goals scored. Gary Neville, Ian Wright and Lee Dixon’s response to England beating Colombia on penalties was particularly entertaining.
What United fans would give for footage of Souness’ reaction to Pogba’s performance on Sunday in the final.
While many have claimed that Pogba’s improved performances are only thanks to playing alongside N’Golo Kante, the United man showed what he was capable without the previous player of the year in midfield.
Kante was subbed off after 55 minutes, having only completed eight passes and won one tackle, yet Pogba went on to shine.
With France leading 2-1, the next goal was vital to the outcome of the game, and it was Pogba who scored it. His finish from outside the box was the first goal in a final from this distance since 1982.
To have seen Souness’ face as Pogba wheeled away in celebration or when he was dancing and dabbing with the trophy in his hand after the final whistle would have been a sight to behold.
United fans can enjoy mocking Souness for his bizarre and repeated criticism of Pogba but they will too be hoping that the midfielder can bring this France form with him back to Old Trafford.
Pogba hasn’t played anywhere near as badly as some people may claim. For months at a time he has been United’s most important player, although he has struggled to play consistently well throughout the season.
Having earned another star with France’s shirt, United supporters can now put faith in him bringing some silverware to Manchester. Pogba is a world champion and don’t you forget it.