When Paul Pogba signed for Manchester United last summer for a whopping £89 million, he was billed as the complete midfielder. The Frenchman could apparently do what he wanted on the football pitch, and Jose Mourinho’s side had landed an absolute jewel. Even though he was just 23 at the time, the Frenchman was considered one of the best midfielders in the world, one who would elevate United to the next level.
Unfortunately, none of that promise has come to fruition. We are almost two years in since Pogba returned to Old Trafford (having been sold by Sir Alex Ferguson as a teenager in 2012). Mourinho still doesn’t know what his best position is, and the relationship between the player and the manager has reportedly turned sour recently. In late January, Pogba as subbed off by the Portuguese in a hugely important game away at Spurs, with the team trailing. This clearly said everything about the lack of trust in the midfielder. Since then, he has been relegated to the bench on multiple occasions, most notably in both legs of the Champions League round of 16 tie against Sevilla earlier this month. It’s not like United won, either.
On Tuesday, Pogba starred for France in a 3-1 win over Russia. He is set to be one of the most integral parts of his national side at the upcoming World Cup. This begs the question – why isn’t he doing well at United?
There are two sides to that question. One, he is not the most complete midfielder in the world, as everyone claimed when he arrived. He has his weaknesses, and needs cover alongside him in the centre to really thrive. At Juventus, he always had two of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal or Sami Khedira playing alongside him in a three-man midfield. This didn’t completely absolve him of his defensive duties, but allowed him the privilege to bomb on forward without having to look over his shoulder all the time. It was very clear that playing on the left of a midfield trio brought the best out of him, and allowed him the freedom to boss the area. He could create goalscoring opportunities with his passing and vision, make runs into the box and score goals when on the attack, and also help out by tracking back while going the other way. With bags and bags of talent, there is no doubt that when given the license to strut his stuff, he is an absolute treat to the eye.
This brings us to the second aspect of the problem. Mourinho has, throughout his career, been insistent on his players adapting to his systems, rather than exhibiting flexibility to get the best out of his superstars. A lot of his former Chelsea players including Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle will testify that their attacking talents were stifled by Mourinho’s obsession with them tracking back. The manager has tried switching Pogba’s position more than once, but has never consistently played him on the left of a midfield three. In fact, the latter’s best game in a Red Devils’ shirt was arguably away at Everton this season, when he played on the left alongside Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera. He was near unplayable that day, and set up both United goals. Pogba isn’t nearly as effective when played in a two-man pivot in a 4-2-3-1 system, while the number 10 is a little too advanced for him to run at the opposition and use his creativity.
Mourinho’s United should be scoring goals for fun, with the team he has at his disposal. The likes of Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Pogba himself are all abound with creativity and skill. However, the manager’s focus on organization and discipline have seen score just 58 Premier League goals so far this season in 30 games. They are also 16 points behind leaders Manchester City.
Pogba’s problem is certainly solvable, but it will require both parties to put their heads together and come up with an answer. With Matic, Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay in the squad, Mourinho needs to set his team up around the Frenchman. His current stats for the season read 3 goals and 10 assists. Such mediocrity is certainly not what the club paid £89 million for.
Robin is a digital marketing expert and he has written this article on behalf of Boxofficeevents.com which is an authorized dealer in UK for football tickets.