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Paul Pogba turns 27: Analysing the Manchester United star's time at Old Trafford | Premier League 2019-20

  • The face of Manchester United turns 27 today, and moves ever closer to an exit from Old Trafford.
Sai Teja
ANALYST
Feature
Modified 15 Mar 2020, 21:18 IST

Paul Pogba scored two goals in the Manchester Derby
Paul Pogba scored two goals in the Manchester Derby

Football has come to a standstill. The Coronavirus outbreak across the world has led to all top European football leagues being suspended and could go on to be rendered null and void.

However, for Paul Pogba, football came to a standstill long before the COVID-19 outbreak.

The World Cup winner was brought back to his former club Manchester United from Juventus for a then-world record fee of £89m, smashing Gareth Bale's record to become the most expensive player in football history. Given the 'superstar' aura around the then 23-year-old, the fee involved and the obvious talent, there was always going to be immense hype building up to the transfer.

United released a statement with the hashtag 'Pogback' the Frenchman donned the red of Manchester once again. He impressed on his Premier League debut against Southampton at Old Trafford and did so without a pre-season due to France's UEFA EURO 2016 campaign, where Les Bleus reached the final. Jose Mourinho, then-head coach of the Red Devils even revealed later that he intended to give Pogba about 60-70 minutes but the new signing put in an energetic shift for the full 90 odd minutes.

Playing his first game for his beloved club after 1,616 days, Pogba was arguably the face of the club in more ways than one. He was a hero who had 75,000 odd fans singing his name.

In theory, this move should have worked wonders for both club and player. It's hard to find a better match in terms of a player who wants to take the leap and stamp his authority on English football with a club who could be powered by his drive to higher levels.

Yet, somehow, it appears to be an alternate story altogether. Paul Pogba is most likely to leave for a club such as Juventus or Real Madrid in the summer. Manchester United, who failed to agree on a new deal with the player, could be reduced to agreeing a deal for a cut-price fee.

The Frenchman shared a frosty relationship with Jose Mourinho
The Frenchman shared a frosty relationship with Jose Mourinho

There were a strange number of issues that had to be dealt with by everyone involved at the club since 2016, but Pogba was a scapegoated quite often by the media for United's flaws. Their idea was essentially that a player who costs you a world-record fee should be able to win you games, such was the expectation at the time. This logic would be foolproof if Paul Pogba happened to be a singles badminton or a singles table tennis player.

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Football is very much a team sport and it could be argued that the project didn't show signs of a lot of progression. Although the former Juventus man did have his 'moody' off day at work from time to time, he settled in well and began to have a growing influence on the team.

He played 27 Premier League games in his second season at the club as they finished second only behind leaders Manchester City. However, they were second by 19 points. David de Gea powered his defence to second place with what could be argued to be one of the best ever seasons a goalkeeper has had in the Premier League. Pogba scored six and assisted 10 goals in the league.

He did, though, play just 27 games that season. A thigh muscle rupture saw him sit out 63 days that season, missing 12 games.

Pogba followed it up with what is his best ever league season in 2018/19, registering 13 goals and nine assists and was the shining light in what was a gloomy season for United. Jose Mourinho eventually got the sack and allegedly brandished Pogba as a 'virus' in the dressing room. After his sacking and the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Frenchman decided to take centre-stage and scored nine goals and six assists out of his tally in that period. Pogba completed more dribbles than any midfielder in the Premier League amidst the controversial season.

Pogba after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final
Pogba after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final

Like their season itself, though, he eventually faded away once again after the permanent appointment of Solskjaer. Make no mistake, a fit and firing Paul Pogba is by some distance the best midfielder and arguably the best player at the club.

Yet, for a number of off-field issues where the French star is not even necessarily at fault combined with the poor relationship with Jose Mourinho, it's a move that hasn't worked out. The most inherent problem as suggested by his agent Mino Raiola is the Red Devils' lack of ambition on the pitch and in the transfer market. Paul Pogba already has the World Cup under his belt. France enter the UEFA EURO 2020 as tournament favourites. It's clear that he intends to be at a club who compete for the Champions League and complete the collection on his trophy cabinet.

Forget his ambition for a second, and even if you consider just the player for his ability on the pitch, he deserves to be playing at a higher level of football competing for Champions Leagues and league titles, not scrappy top-four finishes or Europa Leagues.

Pogba famously declared in the summer of 2019 that he intended to leave under the pretext of seeking a new challenge. He wasn't sold, but unfortunately, that didn't make much of a difference because of the former Le Havre man's untimely injuries.

Pogba on his debut
Pogba on his debut

Sunday, the 15th of March, happens to be Paul Pogba's 27th birthday. On the other hand, though, it also happens to be the 274th day since his arrival in August 2016 that he's missed this season. For the third time this season, Pogba's had to sit out due to ankle injuries and even had to undergo surgery for the same. United's 5-0 hammering of Austrian leaders LASK was the 39th game that the midfielder has missed in the 2019/20 season.

He is magnificent to watch in full flow and is a player but also needs to be supported a team of a certain calibre around him to thrive in. Now, this is not necessarily a poor reflection on the player as no player would thrive when expected to do far more than what it entails. If he does step up, that's wonderful, but there's no point blaming him for not doing more than what he should. Pogba has come under immense criticism from the fans with a particular fan hurling insults at him from close range while the Frenchman humbly accepted them. This came as part of the backlash after their loss to Cardiff City.

Mino Raiola doesn't have a filter and has been blunt about his client's future at the club, while the same can be said about his brother Florentin and Mathias Pogba, who have both openly spoken of their brother's desire to play for Real Madrid.

To put it simply, there is an argument that Pogba has not done as much as he should have to command the sort of freedom on the pitch and respect off it. Whether or not that is true, that is a different argument. Under the right manager and the right system, the Frenchman has the ability to be the best central midfielder in the world.

The United squad currently taking shape under Solskjaer seems to be taking great shape and have achieved everything most of what they did this season without Pogba's involvement.

Pogba
Pogba's recurring injuries have hampered his season

Right now, it appears to be that a move away from the club would suit everyone involved. United's pursuit of names such as Jadon Sancho will cost a lot of money and Pogba's sale could be beneficial in a manner of speaking.

For the player, he simply deserves to be playing at a higher level and would perhaps seek challenges away from Old Trafford. Because right now, given the Red Devils' trajectory with names such as Fred and Bruno Fernandes coming through along with exciting potential summer arrivals, United's midfield looks to be in good hands and there is an exciting future despite Pogba's potential departure.

As Pogba's celebrates his birthday away from the pitch, the suspension of the league wouldn't be of much significance to a man whose season came to a standstill to a season-long ago. As every toxic relationship goes, there has to be a bitter end.

The face of Manchester United turns 27 today, and moves ever closer to an exit from Old Trafford.

Published 15 Mar 2020, 21:18 IST
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