When Paul Pogba joined Manchester United in August 2016 I thought it could well signal a period of domination in England for the club. He could do for United what Patrick Vieira did for Arsenal, I thought.
So often one key transfer can elevate the standards set by everyone else. Clearly Arsenal had a lot of other talented players in that Invincibles line-up of 2003/04 – much like United do. That leggy, combative personality in the centre of midfield is often the catalyst for solid defence and incisive attack.
Given his £89 million price tag, everyone will agree Pogba has not yet lived up to his reputation. He was identified by the Guardian some years ago as one of the 10 most promising players in the world. He was in UEFA’s 2015 Team of the Year, he was in FIFA’s 2016 World Eleven. He was brilliant at times for Juventus taking them to a Champions League Final. And his style looked perfect for the Premier League.
On rare occasions he has been a class apart in games, a Rolls Royce of a player. But having been left out of United’s Champions League tie in Sevilla last night, he needed that Ander Herrera injury to get game time and was largely anonymous, at most quietly efficient. Not £89m class. I would even say that Steven N’Zonzi – a similar all action midfielder – looked more influential.
Pogba has his 25th birthday next month and very soon won’t have time on his side. He needs to step up. Some players need prodding with a stick, others prefer the arm round the shoulder treatment. I am not sure whether Jose Mourinho has tried both techniques but I think we all need someone to love us. And Pogba feels Mourinho’s disappointment deeply.
Ultimately everyone should be able to motivate themselves but good managers get the best out of all their players. So Mourinho has fallen short in the same way that Pogba has.
Meanwhile we are still waiting to find out if this tall Frenchman is big enough for the Man United shirt.