The story of Paul Pogba at Manchester United has been a strange one. The then world-record amount needed to lure him back to his old stomping grounds and out of the Old Lady’s clutches was met with some disdain. Still, few doubted his quality then, but now, after three-and-a-half seasons and not so many trophies, most do.
Inconsistency has been the hallmark of his second tenure at the club. Unstoppable in one week, unmotivated the next. Seldom has a player completely baffled ultras and pundits alike. You’d be hard-pressed to find a greater variety of epithets used anywhere else other than in sports columns across the UK to describe his matches. Perhaps on his Instagram feed.
Yet, Pogba isn’t polarizing when it comes to his talent on the pitch. Even at his languid worst, he can dictate play long enough to influence the scoresheet. Often, he is the best player of a despondent United team. But does he want to be the best in such a team?
Suffice to say that Pogba’s prodigal return hasn’t been a fairytale. Privately, and pragmatically, it may have been the contract, but publicly, there was an impression of unfinished business. Under two contrasting managers and an inept board, that business remains incomplete. The twin departures of Alex Ferguson and David Gill a million years ago have rendered United incapable of playing winning football at the highest level.
But somehow, amidst all the mess, the club brought in a mercurial talent and managed to fashion him in its current image– unbridled potential held back by mystifying yet easily removable setbacks.
Mino Raiola pulling strings from behind the scenes
If we take his agent, Mino Raiola’s words at face value, Pogba is prepared to stay at United as he is happy playing under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. This, at least, attests to the Norwegian’s man-management skills but Pogba has also been the talisman of his tactical nous. In a Tifo Football video on Solskjær’s United tactics, Alex Stewart writes,
“Paul Pogba has been perhaps the greatest beneficiary of Solskjær’s emphasis on possession, movement, and quick, dynamic interchanges. Spared many of the defensive duties that shackled him under [José] Mourinho, Pogba is now free to find space, direct play, and surge into the box to provide a goal threat.”
So, Pogba is placed in a system suited to his strengths, and surrounded by players quite willing to adjust their style to help his skills flourish. At most other so-called European giants, players and managers may not be as accommodating. But then, hardly any of those clubs have been in a ‘transitional’ phase for the last six years.
Along with uncharacteristically effusive praise for the equation shared between Pogba and Solskjær, Raiola was quick to point out that his client needs to be at a club that challenges for, and wins, the biggest trophies in the game:
“As long as Paul is in Manchester United, he wants to win trophies with Manchester United. That’s the kind of player he is and he will not act differently. Like Ole’s saying, it’s a work in progress now, this club. He says he’s working on a team for next year. Let’s hope that it goes well for him because the world needs Manchester United on the top.”
Whether Pogba will stay at United has a pretty straightforward answer. But how long will United need to reach their historical level of success? Now that’s a question with an impossible answer. At least for now.Published 11 Jan 2020, 15:26 IST