Paul Pogba has accused his critics of overburdening him with unrealistic expectations but dismissed suggestions that his off-field antics have undermined his form and focus and insisted he had long ago banished his “mountainous” £89 million transfer fee from his mind.
Speaking for the first time since his world-record move from Juventus last August, the France midfielder used the eve of Manchester United’s biggest game of the season to offer a candid assessment of his first eight months back at Old Trafford.
If United pack as much of a punch in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Anderlecht at the Constant Vanden Stock stadium on Thursday evening, the return game could be academic.
Sporting a pair of diamond ear-rings and gold-rimmed glasses, Pogba claimed that his transfer fee has led people to judge him like they would a free-scoring striker and scoffed at the notion that his commercial activities and relentless social media presence were affecting his performances on the pitch.
Rio Ferdinand, the former United defender, criticised Pogba and team-mate Jesse Lingard for posting a video of a new celebration online in the days before a goalless draw at home to Hull City in the Premier League in February, with the club sixth in the table.
The previous month, Pogba had attracted widespread opprobrium for the launch of a new personalised Twitter emoji that was showcased on perimeters boards around Old Trafford during the 1-1 draw against Liverpool, when the Frenchman missed a great chance and conceded a penalty.
Pogba said he had spoken with Ferdinand in the wake of his criticism but was adamant he did not need to keep a lower profile.
“What is on the pitch is on the pitch and what is outside the pitch is outside the pitch,” the United midfielder said. “I love life. I like to dance. It doesn’t affect me on the pitch. The time is different. Before you wouldn’t do this and now you do it.
“In America, the basketball players listen to music. For me, it’s just enjoying life with Jesse Lingard. When I’m on the pitch, I’m serious. I’m focused and I want to win. I took it as advice because it’s a big club. I spoke with him [Ferdinand] and he told what he meant. It’s different generations, it’s nothing bad.”
Pogba & Lingard working on their new celebration! pic.twitter.com/xhwEbEEMsH
— The F2 (@TheF2) February 7, 2017
Pogba has scored seven goals in 43 games for United but hit the woodwork on nine occasions in all competitions and created a number of excellent chances for team-mates that have been spurned. The margins, Pogba stressed, have been thin and claimed he is being viewed differently to other midfielders because of the “mountain of a transfer fee” he says he has already forgotten.
“The people are looking at me and they judge me on not scoring goals and stuff like this,” he said. “If I was scoring goals, the people wouldn’t talk like this.
“I’m doing a job. I’m a midfield player and some people think I’m an attacking player. I give some assists to some people and they don’t score – it can happen.
“Nobody talks about this but it’s fine. People talk about the mountain of the transfer [fee]. People are looking me saying, ‘Pogba should score goals, Pogba should do this’. Sometimes if I can make the team win, I will do it. But my job is to be a midfielder, make the game, do some assists. If I was scoring the goals that hit the crossbar I don’t think people would speak like this.
“It’s true that I’ve had a lot of chances. But we keep trying and training hard to make it happen. I feel great. We won two trophies. Obviously I want to do better, you can always do better. We can forget about the transfer fee. It’s in the past.”
Pogba concedes that he has had to readjust to the Premier League, but is convinced United can win the Europa League this term and finish in the top four.
“In Italy it’s more tactical. They score less goals. In England, they attack. The Premier League is a very testing,” said Pogba, who left United’s academy for Juventus in 2012. “When I signed here I knew I would play in the Europa League. It wasn’t a problem. I came here to do big challenges. The challenge is to go back to the Champions League and the players know that. To do big things, you need big players.”