A semi-final against Celta Vigo followed by a final against Ajax or Lyon is as close to an open goal as European football can offer. The problem for Manchester United is that they aren't exactly gobbling up open goals – all the more so when they’re created for or by Paul Pogba.
United will be relieved that Pogba is available for what is probably their most important game since Alex Ferguson retired, but despite his competitive charisma and improvisational instinct, not everyone is convinced by him. Partly, this is because of how much he cost – though he had accomplished more than most other players for whom the British transfer record has been broken. And partly, this is because of how much he earns – an admittedly snide ruse given the peanuts paid to the top entertainers in every other cultural milieu, all the more so given football’s financial troubles, and even further, his intention to insult soldiers and nurses. On top of that, he also has the audacity to enjoy his life despite being a young black male, dares to ignore the opinions of people he’ll never meet, and labours under the pathetic misapprehension that there is more to life than football. He is vile.
There are also those with reservations relating to his on-pitch activity, reservations exacerbated by his performances for France at last summer’s European Championship. And it is true that he is capable of better. But it is also true that Didier Deschamps, a manager who deemed Andre-Pierre Gignac of greater use than Anthony Martial, messed him about positionally – and even then, Pogba was definitive in the quarter-final and created the clinching goal in the semi with a frankly murderous display of footwork.
At Juventus, on the other hand, his team had been set-up to suit him – it was almost as though Antonio Conte and Max Allegri knew what they were doing. But then Pogba left to join United, discovered a timid, dysfunctional team, and amazingly, things changed.
Not in the first instance – on his debut he rampaged all over Southampton with a simple brilliance that overrode the deficiencies around him. Eventually, though, and like Angel di Maria before him, he was soon sinking in stodge, on the pitch for every minute of every game despite having played through the summer and missed pre-season.
In the meantime, Jose Mourinho tinkered, scarcely disguising his disgust at his inheritance. Mainly, he used Pogba in front of the back-four alongside Marouane Fellaini, leaving him exposed and with no platform from which to express himself. In such context came his first big-game failure, against Manchester City’s midfield three of Fernandinho, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne; it was not especially his fault.
At various points Fellaini was replaced by Ander Herrera – eventually, he became a regular – and when all other options were exhausted so too did Michael Carrick. At last the team was configured to extract the maximum from its best player, and immediately, United improved; if only Pogba had previously made absolutely, implacably, expletively clear what he needed to extract the maximum from his ability. If only.
With Herrera scuttling about and Carrick supplying early, quality ball, United convinced for the only time this season. In the league, they beat Swansea easily but three careless draws followed – Pogba was dominant in the first of those, against Arsenal, and was consistently crucial in the six straight wins that came next.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Pogba has been held back by United - they need more players like him