Paul Pogba: The crazy-haired magician of Manchester
As Jesse Lingard combined with Antonio Valencia to put pressure on Arsenal down the right wing, they saw a familiar Frenchman asking them for the ball near the halfway line. His marker, a former friend, Henrikh Mkhitaryan found himself unmarked. The Armenian was running towards David de Gea. However, this man didn’t care for it.
He was there to take the ball; to use his amazing footwork and wreck havoc in the opposition half. As Lingard saw him ready to launch an attack, the Mancunian simply passed the ball to the former Juventus man.
The big lad took the possession of the ball and drove the entire team ahead with him. He leapt ahead with his signature characteristic lazy demeanour. Granit Xhaka slid in with a hopeful tackle, however, Pogba glided the ball past Xhaka as if to say, “You can’t exist in my territory, Swiss”. Paul then laid it off to Romelu Lukaku, who shunted out a bit wide and crossed it delicately to Alexis Sanchez so that the Chilean could head the ball home.
In came Hector Bellerin’s superb block, but this Paul was present over there as he calmly tapped the ball into the net and celebrated in his unique, slow style that absolutely delighted Old Trafford. There was the drive; the energy; the composure in passing; and the positioning to be present at the right time to get a goal. There was Paul Labile Pogba at his potent best.
Pogba has always been a different, unique character. Of course, with the amount of talent that he possesses, he is bound to be different from others. He is meant to be special, to be someone who could instil fear in the opposition camp.There is a sense of enigma about Pogba that sets him apart from others.
Pogba’s technical abilities are never in doubt. When he has the ball, he can make his adversary look like some non-league defender. He has the vision that helps him find his teammates standing anywhere on the pitch. Pogba possesses enviable control over the ball. Hence he hardly ever looks like being dispossessed even when a bunch of players hound upon him.
He always finds a way to get out of that crowded space, as if to make way for himself. It is a testament to his tendency to stay apart from the crowd, to make sure that people notice what he is capable of doing. That is, of making some brilliant defenders look embarrassed and distraught on hostile territory.
Pogba just loves to display his skills; he is more of an artist, someone who would create the greatest of goals and confidently boast about it in front of thousands of people so that they acknowledge the genius of him. You sense a certain bit of arrogance and confidence whenever Pogba gains the ball. It is as if the opposition players already expect some sort of fear, something extraordinary that would leave them clueless.
To his credit, Pogba does the same. Once he gets hold of the ball, he drives ahead with such precision, control, with energy and intent that even the best of defenders are left scratching their heads about how to pause this enigmatic Frenchman in his tracks. Bring him down, and he would trouble you from set pieces; let him free and he would create or score a goal with extreme ease. Pogba leaves the opposition with small, bleak chances when he gets going in full flow.
He looks at the opposition as if he means to say, “Pi** off mate; You ain’t no competition for me.” Just watch him seamlessly nutmegging N’golo Kante near the penalty box at Old Trafford in February.
Here was Kante, probably the best defensive midfielder in the league, and Pogba seemed to send him all the way back to Ligue 2. Moreover, he did all of that with just that one little trick with his feet.
Paul shields the ball so effortlessly using his giant frame that it becomes almost impossible for the opposition to take it off him. He goes past them as if their existence doesn’t affect or influence the proceedings of the game.
After all, isn't that what Paul Pogba is all about?
Behind those flashy hairdos, those fancy dance celebrations, the extravagant shoes and the cool handshakes, he is a serial winner. A player who has the mental strength and attitude to battle even the most difficult of situations and still come out on top. Pogba loves to play football, but moreover, he loves the feeling of emerging as the inevitable winner at the end of the ninety minutes. He is ready to push his limits for that to take place.
He is ready to take that one extra step, whether it is tracking back while defending a lead or adding to the numbers in the opposition box while trailing. There has come a change in his attitude and approach under the oft-lambasted Jose Mourinho in recent months, and it would all turn out to be for the good of the player eventually.
Pogba is safer in possession these days; he keeps hold of the ball with that lethargic yet widespread aura of his. He is picking out his teammates regularly and is driving the team ahead whenever necessary.
The Frenchman’s assist for Lukaku’s goal against AFC Bournemouth and the goal against Arsenal are prime examples of this. As soon as he senses that there are fewer numbers in the other half, Pogba looks to run ahead rather than trying those hopeful, outrageous long, curled, dipping balls.
With the inimitable dribbling prowess that he possesses, it is surprising that he did not do that often before. However, all of this is also due to the period in which the gaffer, a couple of months ago, sidelined him.
Time away from field often helps a footballer rediscover his talent, but it also gives them an opportunity to rectify their mistakes and work on them. Pogba is an excellent footballer who can create breathtaking moments on the pitch. However, simplicity brings consistency, which, rope in regular victories.
Would you rather watch fifteen simple team goals or one outstanding overhead kick at the expense of those fifteen goals?
Often in the past, Pogba’s tendency to create something extraordinary with the ball has resulted in his team bowing out from promising situations. However, the Frenchman seems to have imbibed the quality of maintaining a certain level in his performances now. He is curbing his intention to go for the moment of magic and is indulging in patient and fruitful buildup play more often.
There seems to be much more maturity and calmness in his game. Pogba is looking at simpler, better and more regular ways of contributing to attacks. However, it does not mean that we won’t be able to see his amazing skills on the ball. Paul is a showstopper of sorts who cannot stay away from the limelight.
He would delight the fans with his unmatched talent and skills on the ball for sure, and heck, the manager would not want him to kill those talents. However, he would try to deliver the final product much more usually and regularly.
A lot has been made up of his temperament to perform during the big matches. However, if I were to look at the United squad, Paul seems to be the best bet to lead the attacking endeavours of the team against the toughest of opponents. One can sense that hunger and desire in him to perform brilliantly at the highest stage during these big matches.
That confidence and desperation to succeed drives him, and accordingly, the team drives ahead to roar back from hopeless situations. Take the Manchester derby for example. From a seemingly helpless scenario at halftime, Pogba led the remarkable comeback by scoring a brace within two minutes with a couple of composed finishes.
He linked up beautifully with Alexis for the second goal, jumped over Nicolas Otamendi to tilt, and then headed the ball into the net. In a post-match talk with Thierry Henry, Pogba made known his feelings of how losing against City at Etihad, and subsequently conceding the title, was a dangerous thought and how desperately he wanted to avoid that feeling.
After being brought up from United’s academy, the winning mentality in him was instilled at quite a young age. United have been renowned due to their surging tendency to keep dominating football games and big personalities such as Eric Cantona, David Beckham, and Cristiano Ronaldo have helped them do that at a consistent rate.
At just 25, it is quite interesting that Pogba hasn’t even entered his peak years and yet has shown that he has what it takes to take big games by the scruff of the neck. His record against the top-six opponents this season has been enticing too.
The Frenchman missed matches against Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool due to injuries and suspension. However, he returned with match-winning performances against Arsenal in both fixtures and a season-defining performance against Manchester City.
He was highly influential in the match against Chelsea too, though he did not contribute directly to either of the two goals. Pogba’s presence in the midfield helped United peg back Kante and Drinkwater, and subsequently, Mourinho’s men dominated the game thoroughly in the second half.
His only poor game in the league against a top-six opponent was the match against Tottenham at Wembley, which in turn saw the commencement of all of the ‘POGOUT’ rumours. He more than made up for it with a solid display against Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final, in which he did almost all things right and even assisted Sanchez for his first goal.
As of now, Pogba’s stats in the league are quite impressive and indicate a sign of major improvement too. In 24 league matches, he has scored six goals and assisted ten other times including the above stated big-match performances and hence his temperament and talent have all been on display this time around.
Whether we acknowledge this or not, is upon us. However, Paul Labile Pogba will continue enthralling us with his exuberance and talent, with his confidence and vigour.