Five years on, has Paul Pogba fulfilled his potential at Manchester United?

Manchester United
Manchester United's Paul Pogba shrugs during UEFA Europa League Final

Manchester United paid a British record sum of £89million in the 2016 summer transfer window to bring Paul Pogba back to the club from Juventus.

The Frenchman was part of the club's academy and left in 2012 after not signing a new contract with the club under then manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Paul Pogba was left frustrated due to a lack of opportunities in his first stint at the club and Juventus swooped down to take him on board. After four successful seasons in Turin, new manager Jose Mourinho convinced the board that the Frenchman needed to be brought back to add some life and spice to a struggling United midfield.

Mourinho had always been interested in signing Paul Pogba. Having been brought to Manchester United to replace Louis van Gaal prior to the 2016/17 season, the Portuguese sought to imprint his famous philosophy on the club, last seen in at Chelsea during his second tenure in West London.

Now we all know that the backbone of any Mourinho side is formed of their central defenders and central defensive midfielders, and indeed he signed Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly from Villarreal to reinforce that notion, but his pursuit of Paul Pogba was unprecedented.

However, it showed that the Portuguese tactician had an idea in mind for the Frenchman and wanted to explore his creative capabilities. But even after months of trying to settle down at the club, the then 23-year-old's failure to do anything significant on the ball left the Stretford End faithful frustrated.

When he was off it, Paul Pogba tended to be brilliant, with his ability to run into wide open spaces and make sure that opposition midfielders did not get a whiff of the ball when he was around it.

Analysing Paul Pogba's United stint

Paul Pogba has had an indifferent second spell at United.

Paul Pogba has had an indifferent second spell at United.

Things have not improved significantly since his early struggles. Paul Pogba made 30 appearances in the Premier League in 2016/17, scoring 5 goals and bagging four assists.

A whopping 15 appearances came in the UEFA Europa League with three goals and one assist, a tournament which United won by defeating Ajax in the final in Stockholm.

Paul Pogba played twice in the FA Cup and four times in the English League Cup, which was again won by United in Mourinho's first season in charge.

Paul Pogba made 27 appearances in the Premier League in 2017/18, scoring six goals and bagging ten assists. It was also at this time that he was made to protect United's backline more proactively than he had done so before, and the Frenchman did not complain (at first).

The Red Devils had qualified for the Champions League this season and Pogba made 5 appearances in the competition, managing just one assist. 3 more appearances came in the FA Cup, along with one more assist, but his Portuguese manager was willing to overlook his poor form in this domestic competition.

Pogba had his best season yet at Manchester United in 2018/19, midway through which Mourinho was asked to leave and club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was given charge.

Pogba played 35 times in the Premier League that season and scored in 13 goals, which is highest tally in a season yet. To go with this, he also bagged nine assists and it is safe to say that new manager Solskjaer, whose job was made permanent after United made a spectacular turnaround by defeating Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

In that competition that season, Pogba made nine appearances in total but could only bag two goals and one assist. However, his contribution to the team was beyond debate.

A spate of injuries meant Paul Pogba could only make 16 appearances in the 2019/20 season of the Premier League. United were back in the Europa League and there was very little he could do to help his side, who were beaten by a spirited Sevilla side managed by Julen Lopetegui in the semi-finals.

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In the 2020/21 season, he managed to find a semblance of his old form, even though he scored only thrice in the 26 appearances he made in the Premier League, and provided just three assists.

Paul Pogba's creativity was used extensively by Solskjaer and he was one of the most important cogs in the United wheel which allowed them to proceed to the final of the Europa League, which they lost, heartbreakingly, onpenalties to Villarreal.

Should United let go of Paul Pogba?

A lot of these numbers may appear good viewing at first but if one is to remove the veil that hides them and digs deep, it will be gleaned that Pogba has not really fulfilled his potential or justified his big price tag at Manchester United.

As stated earlier, although he acquiesced to playing a little as a box-to-box midfielder under Mourinho, he began complaining soon after of not being given enough freedom to go forward and express himself in a creative fashion. He was, by no means, a typical Mourinho central midfielder and it would be unjustified to say that the Portuguese wanted him to become that.

There were always the likes of Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay and Fred to do the dirty work of recycling the ball at Old Trafford. What Mourinho wanted from Pogba was a little more responsibility towards his side.

Under new manager Solskjaer, Paul Pogba seldom has had to play in the heart of United's midfield as a lone player shielding the backline, as he has had the comfort of either of Matic, Fred or McTominay behind him (in the 2020/21 season, both McTominay and Fred started as defensive central midfielders more often than not behind the Frenchman and Bruno Fernandes).

However, this did not result in his attacking production increasing tremendously, nor did it add to the creative influence he had on the side.

It can be argued that Fernandes was perhaps the only creative player pulling the strings in attacking midfield and all that Paul Pogba did with extraordinary frequency was be wasteful with the ball and lose possession.

Over the five seasons that he has stayed at Manchester United, Paul Pogba has only put in mediocre performances which have not justified the hype he has generated at all.

As rumours of him being swapped for a familiar face at Juventus this summer make the rounds, it may not be too difficult a decision to make for United's board to let him go and start afresh with someone who cares for the Red Devils' badge and understands what it means to be playing in front of the Stretford End.

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Edited by S Chowdhury
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