What has happened to Paul Pogba?
Frenchman Paul Pogba was trending on social media after the weekend, but not for the right reasons. The 24-year-old midfielder was substituted against Newcastle in the 66th minute after yet another abject performance. Fans are wondering where the player who played so well to begin the season has gone? When you cost £89 million you aren't allowed to have a bad game. That, and injury issues aside, Pogba has appeared disinterested lately, offering none of the quality, intensity, and ability anticipated.
The former Juventus man looked miserable on the bench as he was subbed off shortly after failing to challenge for an aerial ball that led to Matt Ritchie scoring the winner. He was seen limping off after the game. Jose Mourinho insisted he wasn’t injured, leading to speculation that he has fallen out with his manager. Taking Mourinho at his word, which is admittedly a risky proposition, what could have happened?
The Alexis Intervention
Alexis Sanchez was signed from Arsenal in the winter transfer window and the Chilean superstar has instantly become top dog at Old Trafford. Is Pogba sulking at being second in line to the new number seven? It's a bit early to tell, but it's often the case with today's players that a new arrival gleaning all the attention sends them into a funk.
Money also affects some players' egos. Pogba is on a reported £350K/wk deal at the Theatre of Dreams. Sanchez's arrival was sealed by a hundred thousand beyond that. After taxes. Pogba could be feeling underappreciated. If that's the case, the club's record signing has some growing up to do.
Pogba isn't what you would call versatile. Antonio Conte, Massimiliano Allegri, and now Mourinho have all shifted him about. Far and away, his best performances come as the left prong in a midfield trident. That is where he fits in just right. For the most part, Mourinho has insisted on playing him as part of a pair alongside Nemanja Matic. Pogba often ignores his defensive duties, leaving the Serb embarrassingly exposed.
His best position has been debated by club legend Paul Scholes, who was called out by Mourinho for always finding fault with Pogba. Mourinho should play a 4-3-3 to get the best out of his best midfielder. Still, if he does not, Pogba must adapt. The best tend to turn every situation in their favour. Ask Scholes teammate Ryan Giggs, who reinvented himself over the course of two decades.
Aw Ma, do I have to go to school?
Liverpool legend Graeme Souness recently wrote a newspaper column criticizing Pogba for lacking intensity in certain matches. The Frenchman is up there with the best in midfield, but he doesn’t always impose himself. Perhaps it’s a function of tiredness or fatigue. Perhaps it's Mourinho really hammering home the defensive discipline when the big matches come around. Who knows? To be considered world class, however, a player must deliver in the most trying circumstances. It's why Lionel Messi's World Cup failures impede on his greatness.
Plaudits have been coming Kevin De Bruyne's way. The Belgian turns up the heat no matter the opposition. Pogba must stop drifting through matches, selecting when he wants to play. Ultimately it could affect his status as a truly fantastic player.