When Paul Pogba was signed by Manchester United in 2016, his arrival looked like a real statement of intent, and one that would change the fortunes of a club recovering from the disastrous tenures of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. Diplomatically put, it hasn’t quite worked out that way, and despite being part of a World Cup-winning international squad, is largely seen as more burden than boon at Old Trafford.
Ardent United fans – even those with the most red-tinted of visions – struggle to recall a time Pogba has emulated the incredible performances of his Juventus days. The saga of Pogba is, of course, given further spice, as United released him in his fledgling years, only to buy him back for a price many considered obscene at the time.
Being the most expensive player in the world brings its own pressures, but Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Phillipe Coutinho have since surpassed the fee that saw Pogba trade black and white stripes for devil Red. In the ever-inflating market, Pogba’s transfer fee no longer looks as crazy as it once did. Yet, only time can tell whether that will ease any pressure he may feel, and lessen the venom of his critics, and directly lead to an improvement in Pogba’s overall play.
The idea of Pogba truly being affected by pressure appears flimsy at best in any case, and it is certainly not something Pogba seemed to feel while playing for France in the 2018 World Cup. Next to N’golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi, he was able to express himself and was one of the best players in the tournament. This makes his club-level malaise all the more perplexing, especially if winning the World Cup fails to boost his confidence.
Naturally, a lot of United fans point the blame for the status quo at club manager Jose Mourinho, whose tactics appear to have failed to resonate with Pogba.
Mourinho has never been seen as much of an attacking manager, but it seems like he is getting more and more defensive with age. Pogba has been asked to play more defensively under Mourinho, but he is only comfortable with a stopper (Matuidi) and a speedster (Kante) by his by his side. Under Mourinho, the situation is difficult, with Nemanja Matic being given a freer role, and Ander Herrera being less of a physical presence than Pogba’s fellow France midfielders.
In order for Pogba to truly shine in a red shirt, and improve the football spread betting price on United winning the Premier League, he needs to be given more freedom to express himself. Only then can he head out onto a pitch, safe in the knowledge that he is able to unleash his full potential onto the Premier League. At Juventus too he had a number of midfielders around him who were able to do the defensive work for him, with battle-hardened luminaries like Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal in the ‘engine room’.
It seems clear to most that if you want to get the most out of Pogba then he needs to be the most attacking of your midfielders. Playing him as one of two sitting central midfielders doesn’t get the best results.
Whether Pogba can shine in the 2018/19 season might be more up to his manager than anything else. France won the World Cup partly due to Didier Deschamps giving Pogba licence to assist the forwards that he had in front of him. Mourinho may be a manager that appears stubborn on the outside, but he will be as open to learning as anyone, if it means bringing the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.
It’s not all on Mourinho, however, as those that claim to be the world’s greatest must also be flexible, and able to fit into any system. At the age of 25, with younger players than himself stealing the spotlight, Pogba must add an extra dimension to his play, and work on the more defensive aspects.