Where To Begin
Unhappy. Disinterested. Lazy. Manipulative. All are words that have been used to describe Paul Pogba since he re-joined Manchester United. When he left, Sir Alex described him as surplus to requirements, and sent him off to Turin. While in Italy, he did nothing but shine. Granted, Serie A is not the Premier League, but his efforts were enough to cause second thoughts, and a buy back to his original professional club.
Fanfare was rampant. Expectations were high. Yet, those never seemed to be realized in the red of Manchester. Every time it seemed he couldn’t quite replicate his scintillating form for Juventus for United, the rumbles started, and the chess game began.
It is not an argument. Paul Pogba is not as good, as consistently, as players like Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or even Kevin de Bruyne. He hasn’t been able to develop a consistency in United red that other players have been able to do for their clubs. But maybe, just maybe, that’s not entirely his fault.
Sure, when a transfer fee is broken, and a player is brought it, there are incredible expectations. We all wanted him to launch off, and be the final piece of the puzzle to get to number 21, and recapture continental supremacy. But let’s pause, and consider some truths.
Pogba is 27 now, and was 24 when he returned to England after 4 years in Italy. 24 years old is a staggering age to be saddled with the expectation of savior for the most successful club in England. He probably wasn’t ready then. Hell, he isn’t going to be ready now, but that’s OK. He doesn’t need to be, for this team to be successful.
He was a progressive midfielder in Italy, anchored by one of the suavest midfielders in history in Andrea Pirlo, lining up in front of a back line more solid than the Berlin Wall. He didn’t carry any defensive responsibility, and wasn’t asked to be the focal point of the team. In those conditions, unburdened, he thrived. Pogba went on and scored 28 goals in 124 appearances, won 4 straight Scudettos, and truly looked like he has loving life on the pitch.
Guess what happened. His agent started talking. That’s what they are paid to do. Agents get paid when their players get paid, and only then. Of course Mino Raiola was going to talk. He wants his players to be constantly negotiating for bigger wages, longer terms, or even new teams. It is in their best interests to have new contracts, or new teams, in the mouths of the media, and boardrooms. It’s how they pay the bills.
As a fan, that sounds like it sucks. We’d love all of our players to be dedicated to their bones the way we are. Guess what. That’s never going to happen. And if we look at it, we don’t want it to. If players were fans of their clubs as much as we were, Pirlo would have never left Inter (for Milan no less), Rio would have never left Leeds, Ronaldo would have never left Sporting.
All of these moves happened because player’s want to do one thing – win. Yes, yes, I know, some are only in it for the money, but that typically happens later in their careers, and doesn’t apply to Paul right now, or he’d be in China.
Paul Pogba is used to winning silverware. That hasn’t been the case at Manchester United in recent years. He wan’t to be challenging for top prizes year in, year out. A drought, or a potential drought, of silverware, is always going to be a tough sell to big players, just look at what Barcelona is dealing with in Leo Messi right now.
It is not a negative trait to want to win, and be on winning teams. Paul is a winner. He wants to win. I don’t think he cares much where he does it. As a fan, that can be hard to swallow, but it is not a new phenomenon. Players in all sports leave clubs and teams in persuit of titles around the globe. It happens in world football, it happens in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, you name a league, it happens.
Let us, as Manchester United fans, be honest. 3 months ago not one of us thought this was going to be the year for a title challenge. Not with the “backing” Ole got in the summer. We all thought we were a few few players, and a year or two, away from serious contention.
Paul wants to win trophies. Professional athletes don’t know how much time they have. One major injury can make their last payday their last payday, or end any future title pushes. That injury can happen in a game against a 3rd division club in the FA cup, or against Bayern in a Champions League final, you just never know.
With a fourth straight year of possible silverware irrelevance in sight, is it any surprise his agent starts angling for a move that may help both him and his client? Sure as hell doesn’t surprise me.
Yes, we as fans would love for any of our players to come out and rebuke their agents when they talk about wanted to chase other challenges in far away lands. But you know what, that would only help us feel better on the outside looking in.
Judge Me By What I Do, Not Say
Let’s look at what the people in the locker room are saying about the Frenchman, and maybe look at it from a different point of view. Bruno Fernandes constants hails Paul for his attitude at Carrington, and his attitude on the pitch. He see’s somebody who may not have the outspoken leadership of Cantona, but always turns up ready to go.
Harry Maguire has hailed him as a role model behind the scenes, mentoring young players, and always willing to help them grow. Juan Mata has called him a pillar. Marcus Rashford MBE has hailed him as a fighter.
These are the opinions that matter. The lads see something we will never be privileged to see. The coaching staff see someone who blocks out the noise (even if it is his camp that starts shouting). Could he play better, sure. Could he be more consistent, sure. So could a lot of of players in this team not named Ferandes.
He is playing consistently for the first time without injury, and without limitations, and he is doing a damn fine job more often than not. His passing, his flair, his sheer potential cause opponents to play differently when he shares a field with Bruno and Rashford.
For the first time since he left Turin, he is healthy, and unburdened by having to be the lynchpin in a side. It’s OK that he’s not that guy, even if that what we were expecting when we signed him for $89 million. He’s now a part of a team that doesn’t need him to be, and he’s thriving.
The goals will come. Them chemistry will come. We just saw a midfield combination that allowed him to roam, pop up, and try his probing passes at will, and it worked well. Who knows what the future holds. Maybe he leaves in the summer. Maybe he signs a new deal. Maybe Raiola gets his paycheck, and the noise stops for a while. Hell, maybe Paul fires him. We just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.
A 24 year old kid was saddled with being the savior of the biggest club in the world. He wasn’t the savior. That doesn’t mean he’s useless. He wants to win. Manchester United haven’t fought for a title since 2012-13. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad lad, or a poison in the locker room.
The reality is that United are in a title race in 2020-21. And Paul Pogba is going to be able to leave his mark, and be a key factor in determining if 2021 brings 21. We may be about to see the full potential of this particular Frenchman very soon, and that should excite the hell out of every United fan.