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Manchester United's success brings the best out of Paul Pogba — can he take them all the way?

Paul Pogba inspired Manchester United to victory over Burnley on Tuesday night.
Paul Pogba inspired Manchester United to victory over Burnley on Tuesday night.
Mark Pitman
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 13 Jan 2021, 17:59 IST
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Paul Pogba produced a man of the match performance for Manchester United against Burnley on Tuesday evening. His goal took Manchester United to the top of the English Premier League ahead of a massive match against champions Liverpool at Anfield this weekend.

A hard-fought 1-0 victory over Burnley was as labored as it sounds. Still, the psychological advantage of moving above Liverpool before the two teams meet in one of the campaign's most anticipated games cannot be underestimated.

Paul Pogba, the headline maker

Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United in 2016 to win trophies.
Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United in 2016 to win trophies.

Paul Pogba is never far from controversy but made headlines for the wrong reasons over the last calendar year, particularly with his future at Old Trafford. With conflict engineered by his agent Mino Railo, reports of his high-profile client being unsettled in the news can only help fuel another big-money move.

But on Tuesday night at Turf Moor, Paul Pogba looked every inch the player that Manchester United hoped he could be when he returned to the club in the summer of 2016 for a world-record fee. Now 27, the midfielder is in his professional prime, and challenging for significant honors is where he expects to be.

A controversial figure who has divided opinion throughout his career, his performances for France have added to the confusion. A driving force behind Les Bleus becoming world champions in 2018, his displays for the national team added to the frustration at Old Trafford as he failed to replicate such form.

Paul Pogba returned from Juventus, having won four consecutive Serie A titles. While he was a part of a dominant team, he was a crucial figure in the Bianconeri midfield during this successful era. To explain the inconsistencies that define Paul Pogba, he needs to play for a winning team to get the best out of him.

Paul Pogba played a crucial role in France winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Paul Pogba played a crucial role in France winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Defying Sir Alex Ferguson

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Paul Pogba's desire for appearances prompted his initial departure from Manchester United back in 2012. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities offered to him by Sir Alex Ferguson in the senior team, he took his career path into his own hands. He completed his move to Juventus, much to the disappointment of his manager.

The move came when the demands of modern players were proving too much for traditional managers like Sir Alex Ferguson to control. Advised by external parties putting their own financial agendas above their client's career pathway, Paul Pogba arrived in Turin, but vindicated the move by delivering from the start.

Paul Pogba had a difficult relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Paul Pogba had a difficult relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson.

This was the level of success that Paul Pogba had wanted to achieve at Old Trafford, and his performances for Juventus were clearly inspired by wanting to prove Manchester United wrong. The fact that the club bought him back for a world-record fee — having let him go for nothing just four years earlier — was an embarrassing situation for all concerned.

But that is in the past, and the focus for Paul Pogba and Manchester United now is on building from this position of strength as they head to their bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday. This is the stage upon which Paul Pogba can thrive, and the fact that his team are now genuine title contenders will sit well with his professional ambitions.

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The relationship between Paul Pogba and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has supported Paul Pogba in the press.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has supported Paul Pogba in the press.

There has been a long and frustrating period of uncharacteristic struggle at Manchester United in recent years. While the pressure remains firmly on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, he has maintained a consistent line in supporting Paul Pogba despite the criticism that has been thrown at him. With Paul Pogba now on his side, he deserves to reap the rewards.

It would have been easy for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to turn against his often petulant star, but the manager should be commended for not letting the media affect their relationship. As he proved on Tuesday, Paul Pogba always has the potential to produce something special, and this could prove to be one of the most important seasons of his career.

A deep and complex character, Paul Pogba has a desire to be the best, and it is this deep-rooted ambition that explodes through his frustration when things are not going his way. From a young age, he has displayed nothing but a drive to succeed on the biggest stage, but it has brought the worst out of him when he has failed.

As with Juventus and France, Paul Pogba needs to be challenging for the biggest trophies to perform at the level in which his status in the game demands from him. He is not a player who has the patience to be a part of a process that eventually leads to his team being in that position, but a player who can thrive only when he gets there.

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France enjoyed the best of Paul Pogba at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
France enjoyed the best of Paul Pogba at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Paul Pogba in the right frame of mind for Liverpool

For some, he is considered a luxury player, an individual rather than a team player who targets the glory without putting in the hard graft needed to get there. There is an element of justification in that, but that aspect of his character makes Paul Pogba who he is. He can be frustrating, but he can also be great.

The stage is set for Paul Pogba to shine against Liverpool and Sunday, and the opportunity to open up a six-point lead over the champions will be his focus as he steps onto the field. The famous Kop will be empty, and the sterile atmosphere of this behind closed doors campaign will suit Manchester United more than Liverpool.

Paul Pogba finally has the opportunity to lead Manchester United to glory this season.
Paul Pogba finally has the opportunity to lead Manchester United to glory this season.
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Great players are ultimately defined by the trophies that they win in their careers. A Premier League title has so far eluded Paul Pogba, and until now, he has never been in serious contention to erase this unwelcome statistic.

If Paul Pogba can help push his side over the line this season, it will justify Manchester United's investment in him as well as Ole Gunnar Solskjær's unwavering support for his midfielder. It has been a long road back to the top, but staying there will now be the true test of character for Paul Pogba and his team.

Published 13 Jan 2021, 17:59 IST
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