Recently, Sky Sports commentator and Manchester United legend Gary Neville spoke about there being ‘Japanese knotweed’ in the United dressing room after the Red Devils’ humiliating loss at Goodison Park. And that whoever this person is, or these players are, are the ones responsible for the club’s inconsistent performances this season.
But first, what the heck is Japanese knotweed?
A quick search on Google throws up this – Japanese knotweed is one of the world’s worst invasive species. Its invasive root system and strong growth can damage concrete foundations, buildings, flood defences, roads, paving, retaining walls and architectural sites.
So what Mr. Neville was essentially saying is that some players in that Manchester United dressing room are messing up the very foundation of this historic club! Far from helping the Red Devils get back to their glory days, these players are pulling the club down with their divisive tactics. And Neville’s argument is not without merit, either.
After Manchester United appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as caretaker manager in December, the team, supposedly liberated from Ole’s predecessor Jose Mourinho’s stifling tactics, went on to win an incredible 14 out of 19 games and lost just twice across competitions. This stupendous turnaround in fortunes convinced the United hierarchy to give OGS the job on a permanent basis. Things were looking up like they haven’t since the good ol’ days of ‘Fergie’. And then the knotweed resurfaced.
Since being appointed on a full-time basis, OGS has lost five out of eight games, including exiting the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona. With just two games to go, United’s Top 4 hopes are also hanging by a thread.
It really does seem that United players can switch it on and off like a tap. But the question is, who controls this tap. Here are the prime suspects:
Suspect #1: Paul Pogba
Under Ole, Paul Pogba has scored 11 goals and made 7 assists. On the face of it, those numbers don’t look bad at all, especially for a midfielder. But when you look a little deeper, that is when you realize that all but two of those goals and all of the assists had come during Ole’s first 17 games. United’s slump coincided with Pogba’s decline in form.
There were several reports that Paul Pogba gave an intense speech to his teammates before the World Cup final in Russia. If Pogba is afforded such high status in a team that comprises of experienced players and proven leaders such as Hugo Lloris, Antoine Griezmann and Blaise Matuidi, it isn’t a stretch to think that Pogba is the head of the pack at Man United, a team that contains only a handful of experienced heads.
OGS has also said in numerous interviews that Pogba is the leader of this youthful team.
All these things point to a single thing – Paul Pogba wields massive influence in that Man United dressing room. If he can get them playing, he can also stop them from giving their best, or so it seems. So, could he be the Japanese knotweed Gary Neville was referring to?