We take a deep dive at Paul Pogba’s spell at Man United, upon his return and exit.
The tosses and turns that surrounded the French Superstar.
Manchester United purchased Paul Pogba in the summer of the 2016/2017 season for a British record of £89m, in what we would later come to learn to not be the original plan of the then United manager’s blueprint. Pogba was not the new manager (José Mourinho) first choice. José wanted Ngolo Kante, but United’s banker CEO, Ed Woodward, preferred a name that would sell shirts and get social media engagements.
Pogba came with much fan fare and expectations with Woodward promising to build a world class team around him, that would usher in a new era of dominance for the falling English dynasty that was the red side of Manchester. Did united fulfill that promise? Thanks to woodward’s incompetence, United had a midfield partnership of (Pogba + Herrera) instead of the (Kante + Herrera) José allegedly preferred.
With the unbalanced middle of Pogba + Herrera (2 natural forward thinking CMs), United lacked the ability to control games, and a partner to allow the fun loving Pogba to go express himself. United still won the Europa league, EFL cup and community shield that season In spite of Woodward’s meddling and not because of him.
In the 2017/2018 Season, United finally bought a defensive midfielder to bring the best out of Pogba in the person of Nemanja Matic. Problem? Yes! United bought a player who was already on the physical decline due to the highly combative nature of his play style and career.
For the first few months, Matic and Pogba were on fire. United were called 4nil fc for the clinical fashion which they dispatched opponents, but Pogba would soon pick an injury that coincided with Matic’s form, declining.
Pogba would be forgiven to think that with Matic and Herrera around, he would be finally afforded the chance to play in an attacking position with 2 capable shields behind him, but no, José Mourinho preferred a declining Mata and Jesse Lingard as his number 10s with, Pogba stuck in the double pivot. Did Mata and Lingard perform so well as no10s to justify snubbing Pogba in that position? Of course not!! Now this is where Pogba let his frustration contribute to his problems.
Pogba was a global superstar, even as a central midfielder in a double pivot, journalists still judged him on goals and assists, with comparisons to Kevin debruyne who played as a no10 for Manchester city a common theme. Pogba’s brand needed for Pogba to be the main man. He wanted to play no10 and when the chance didn’t come, he fell out with José Mourinho. He stopped showing effort and started questioning the manager’s tactics in public. United would finish the season in second and Pogba’s relationship with Mourinho at all time, became sour. Pogba went on to win the 2018 World Cup with France that summer, playing in a deeper role, but what everybody forgot was that he had defensive monsters (Kante and Matuidi) doing the dirty work to allow him play in the more creative role he desires.The following season (2018/2019) started with José still stuck in his 4-2-3-1 with him only seeing Pogba as a double pivot player and now, even Andreas Perreira was considered as a no10 before Paul Pogba.
A summer of little recruitments to the playing
staff had left Mourinho bitter, angry and blood thirsty. Almost in comical fashion, a Pogba who was also out for blood had questioned united’s or most importantly, Jose’s tactics in a capital one cup game, and this set the tone for the bitter feuding that would envelope the first part of that season for Manchester united. José and Pogba’s beef became public as José decided to start benching Pogba while promoting young Scott Mctominay into the first team fray. Results started to deteriorate at an alarming rate, with the whole club plunged into a sickening period of negativity.
United struggled throughout the season till José was sacked in December 2018 and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hired just a few days later. Ole’s first decision was to restore Pogba to the team and finally play him as a no10 infront of Matic and Herrera, or in a 4-3-3 formation with Pogba as a left sided no8 in a fluid attacking system. How did Pogba respond to finally getting his preferred position? With half a season remaining, Pogba went into player of the season form, finishing the season as – Man Utd’s top scorer- Man Utd’s most assist provider – EPL team of the season. That was with Pogba as a no10 for just six months. Now was that Pogba finally being unlocked? Maybe! A good club would build on that and buy more midfielders to allow him keep playing as a no10 right? But not Manchester United!!!!!! The club allowed Herrera to leave the following season for free, and instead of upgrading on or at least replacing the departed Ander, the technical team thought it smart to start playing Pogba in a double pivot again.
Now can Man Utd really claim they did not see Pogba’s best position, In the 2019/2020 Season and allowed Herrera to leave without any replacements? Matic got older and slower. OGS withdrew Pogba to play in a double pivot with Scott Mctominay for the season and Lingard/Andreas Perriera as no10s.
In the first game, united bashed Chelsea 4-0 and everybody thought all was well, but subsequent games saw united go on one of Club’s worst runs in the their long illustrious history. United struggled to create chances through their no10s as Pogba wasted away in the double pivot. Pogba would later pick an injury with United in mid table and half of the season gone.
Then the winter transfer window came with United buying Bruno Fernandes and Pogba’s dream of ever playing as a no10 died a natural death. Bruno had turned out to be an excellent buy, but United still remained the losers, who spent 89m on a player who played best as a no10 for them, but only played there for 6months in the last 5 years. Instead of buying young central midfielders and DMs to allow Pogba go do his magic, United instead tried to convert Pogba to those things. The best description of Pogba came from a french pundit who said that “Pogba was a player everybody wanted to be the new “Patrick Viera, when the man himself wanted to be the new Zinedine Zidane” The narrative will always be that Pogba failed United, Meanwhile, Pogba was actually failed by United more times han it was actually his fault.
Could he have put more effort into being a patrick viera prototype? Maybe! Could he have handled the positional expectations from José Mourinho better? Most likely! But wouldn’t it have been smarter and way more easier to let a butterfly be a butterfly instead of a dragon fly? Most United fans will despise Pogba for his late agent and brother’s disrespect to the club, but united proved the incompetence that had swallowed the club during Pogba’s time here, summer after summer. Pogba just for 6months as Utd’s no10 finished as the top scorer, top assist maker and in the EPL team of the year, now why did the club and their managers only play him there for 6months in the last 5yrs? That, we may never know, and in hindsight best highlights, why the club is in such a structural mess.
Before the end of the 2021/22 EPL season, United had 2 world class playmakers (no10s) in Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, with a very inferior roaster of central midfielders for their preferred double pivot, and one of the world class no10s having to feature there for the team to have any sort of progressive play from that area of the pitch. With Paul Pogba announcing his departure from the team as a free agent this summer, he will leave as another clog “a dwindling Manchester United club failed to find a hole for in its declining system.
What do you think of all that has happened so far? Between Man United and Pogba, Who failed who?? Rumours has it that he might be on his way to Juventus or PSG. What next does the future hold for him? Leave us a comment and share.
Parts of the original piece of this article, were culled from Matty Onyeka (as seen on Facebook) and revised/modified by Norra Wilbor (author, norrawilbor.com).