It has been nine months since Paul Pogba joined Manchester United from Juventus, but it appears to be impossible to mention his name without the £89m price tag associated with it.
The French midfielder came to Manchester after a successful four years with Juventus, in which he won Serie A four times, Coppa Italia twice and reached a Champions League final against Barcelona.
At 23-years-old, Pogba was clearly not the finished article when he was bought. He was a very good central midfielder that possessed world-class ability, but you would have been a fool to suggest he had reached his peak.
Not surprisingly, rival fans and critics are quick to pick up on everything that goes awry for the former Juventus midfielder. While criticism is always healthy, and that shouldn’t be undermined, there’s a difference between it being constructive and just being pointless.
Last week, against Anderlecht in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-finals, Pogba slipped and fell over. A fairly normal thing for a footballer to experience at some point, but, alas, no.
Because he cost a WHOPPING £89m, Pogba is expected to defy the laws of gravity and stand on his feet. Better than that, why can’t he fly yet? What a waste of money that I didn’t spend on bringing him to Manchester.
In all seriousness, the over-dramatisation of Pogba’s every move is utterly sensationalist and ridiculous. No player, forgetting that he isn’t even in his peak yet, plays at 100% of their ability for every single game of the season. It just doesn’t – and can’t – happen.
But when we dive deeper than surface level, behind the very reductive goals and assists record, we find a different story.
Out of all of the central midfielders in the Premier League, Pogba tops the list in the following categories: chances created (54), dribbles (71), duels won (184) and completed passes (1,726).
There has been a similar theme throughout the majority of the season: Pogba will pick the ball at halfway line and immediately look for Zlatan Ibrahimović.
In every single game that the two of them play together, the Frenchman will send a lofted ball over the opposition’s last man into Ibrahimović’s – or another attacker’s – path.
It is not Pogba’s fault that the former Paris Saint-Germain striker, nor the other attackers in Man United’s squad, have not finished their chances. The Swedish striker has had 83 shots in the Premier League, with only 46 on-target.
A vast amount of those shots have come from Pogba’s intelligence and inch-perfect pass into him. There is only so much a midfielder can do to influence the team scoring.
Yes, there is a case to say that his goals and assists (10 goals, 4 assists) tally is not as impressive as it was at Juventus. However, again, taking this further than the surface level, Pogba was permitted a lot more freedom in Juventus’ 4-3-3 formation.
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Manchester United’s team clearly isn’t as balanced as Juventus’ and so a player like Pogba, who is clearly the most gifted midfielder in the Red Devils’ team, has to have more of an eye on his defensive duties.
For the majority of the season, the French box-to-box midfielder has been playing a in a two-man midfield, which isn’t his favourite and has openly admitted this.
Under Didier Deschamps’ French side last year in the European Championships, you could see that Pogba struggled when playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
However, given Mourinho’s lack of balance in the team, the Portuguese boss has to give his defence the most amount of cover and Pogba has to compromise. This means that Pogba’s creative influence will not be as proficient as when he was at Juventus.
You simply cannot compare Pogba at Juventus to Pogba in his first season at Man United. There are far too many extraneous variables associated with this comparison – e.g. evaluating his best season at Juventus compared to his first season in Manchester or the fact that the two leagues are completely different.
Pogba’s critics will always be around until there is a player that breaks the £100m world-record barrier – which looks set to be AS Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé.
The Manchester United midfielder is hitting the right notes and with more balance around him, we will see the very best of him. Whether that is next season or the one after, the good thing for Pogba is that he has time on his side.