Wednesday 26 April 2017

Comment - Luxury item Pogba exposed as a Manchester United liability against Liverpool

Manchester United's Paul Pogba leaves the pitch at half-time during the Premier League match at Old Trafford yesterday
Manchester United's Paul Pogba leaves the pitch at half-time during the Premier League match at Old Trafford yesterday
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Jose Mourinho knew he was signing a luxury item when he smashed the world transfer record to bring Paul Pogba back to Manchester United last summer and on a day when the stage was set for a marquee performance, the Frenchman looked every inch the £89m misfit.

The true greats come to the fore when the stakes are raised to their maximum level and with Liverpool on the guest list at Old Trafford, this was the moment Pogba had been waiting for to confirm his status as one of the world’s greatest players.

Here was the player hailed by Mourinho ahead of the Liverpool game as a future United skipper and the next great Premier League midfielder who could follow in the footsteps of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard.

Indeed, it was no surprise to see United’s commercial team eagerly promoting the #Pogba emoji on the electronic hoardings around Old Trafford before and during a match that was watched by an estimated one billion fans around the world.

After all, one of the reasons the Old Trafford money men justified their huge investment in the French midfielder last summer was his status as a world superstar with a vast social media reach, yet Pogba needs to deliver when it matters most and on this day of days, he fluffed his lines horribly.

With a new golden flick added to his latest haircut especially for this occasion, Pogba’s eagerness to make his mark in this game could not be questioned. The trouble way, his desire to cover every blade of grass on the Old Trafford pitch added to the suspicion that he is a loose cannon unable to control his emotions and focus on the defined role that must have been mapped out for him by Mourinho and the United coaching staff prior to kick-off.

Pogba’s natural talents should never be questioned, with his physical presence and first touch worthy of a player in the A-list category, yet his exploding ego and his worrying tendency to allow his mind to wander in games remain as major flaws in his make-up.

The true greats have most boxes ticked on their list of credentials, but this wannabe is still striving to find a few missing links to take him to the next level.

In truth, Pogba’s afternoon took a turn for the worse the moment referee Michael Oliver blew his whistle for the first time to signal the start of a game that could have justified pay-per-view status thanks to its mass appeal to football fans around the globe.

This was a match Pogba will quickly want to forget. First off, he snatched at a chance to fire United into a lead when he was sent through on goal and then he gave away the penalty that handed Liverpool a 27th minute lead.

He resembled a boxer who had been rocked onto the ropes by a snappy left hook, so it was no surprise when his confusion led to a handball that provided Liverpool with a penalty that was duly dispatched by James Milner.

As his miserable afternoon became more uncomfortable with each passing minute, Pogba became a liability United's other star names were covering for, with his inability to pick up Dejan Lovren on set-pieces, his shoddy passing and his ill-disciplined movement playing into Liverpool’s hands.

Pogba’s waywardness was not confined to one end of the pitch, with his man handling of Jordan Henderson in the United box going unnoticed by referee Oliver and his tardiness on the ball inviting Liverpool’s high pressing midfielders and forward to rob him of possession time and again.

“He was all over the place,” declared former Liverpool midfield general Pogba as he reflected on Pogba’s performance, while his fellow Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp condemned his efforts and suggested “it is like he has never marked from a corner in his life before”.

They were cutting comments, but more than justified as Pogba looked visibly distressed for long periods of this game and even though Zlatan Ibrahimovic got him out of jail with a deserved equaliser for Mourinho’s side six minutes from time, United’s celebrated No.6 hauled himself off the field at the final whistle appreciating that his big chance to confirm his status as United’s star man had passed him by.

Social media was loaded with United fans calling for Pogba to be replaced in the second half, but Mourinho stood by his record signing and the experienced manager can only hope that this chastening experience in one of the biggest games of the Premier League season so far can be put down as a painful lesson learned for a footballer still striving to convince many that he is as good as his publicity machine wants us to believe he is.

On this evidence, Pogba will need time to become a world class performer and while enticing helpings of raw talent are waiting to escape from a player who needs to add discipline and consistency to his flashed of brilliance, Mourinho now knows he cannot yet fully trust his most expensive gem when the pressure is ramped up to maximum levels.

Here are just a few of the thousands social media posts that highlighted Pogba’s difficult Sunday against Liverpool, starting with United’s official Twitter feed adding to the Pogba’s hype machine:

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