Wednesday 17 January 2018

Aidan O'Hara: Paul Pogba performance leaves him much closer to ‘Captain Emoji’ than ‘Captain Marvel’

Manchester United's Paul Pogba. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United's Paul Pogba. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Last week, the first Manchester United captain to lift the Premier League trophy turned 60. Since Bryan Robson's reign, United have enjoyed a stellar batch of leaders, with Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Nemanja Vidic all guiding the club to the title.

Some of them were loved, all were respected, but only one, Robson, had his standing within the club recognised in his nickname. From Bryan 'Captain Marvel' Robson, Jose Mourinho last week opened up the possibility of 'Captain Emoji' being next in line for the armband.

When asked about Paul Pogba being a potential leader, Mourinho said: "I think he has the charisma, the ambition, the mentality. He is a good professional. Being so young and with so many ingredients, I think he can."

It was another moment of high praise for the 23-year-old, coming a few days after he was compared to another United legend when the ever-excitable Pat Crerand revealed that Pogba reminded him of Bobby Charlton.

"If he (Charlton) made a mistake, he still wanted it," said Crerand.

"Others might go into their shell for a bit, but he never would. Paul's the same and I think he's fantastic."

In the world of Pogba, however, it's likely that being touted as the leader of one of the game's biggest clubs, or being compared to one of its icons, was small fry compared to the really big event of the week - becoming the first footballer to have a unique emoji on Twitter.

For those unaware, emojis are a communication tool which makes it much easier for people to not really communicate.

From the disappearing vowels of text-message speak - where it's too much effort to type the word 'great' and so 'gr8' is used instead - emojis now allow us to use a thumbs-up symbol to indicate when something is great (or gr8), thus saving a couple of vital thumb-strokes on your phone.

For a limited time only (wow!), an emoji image of Pogba will appear whenever his name is typed into Twitter. It immediately trended (in normal speak, that means lots of people used it) when it was launched on Friday, which excited everyone involved.

"I am happy and thankful for this opportunity and I look forward to emojing!" tweeted Pogba. "Let's have fun and kick some ass at #pogba."

If the verb 'emojing' in Pogba's tweet created a slightly queasy feeling, it was nothing compared to the outpouring of delight from United's marketing department, who seemed to take the news in a similar way to NASA's reaction to the moon landings.

"Manchester United is the most connected and engaged club in world sport," gushed group managing director Richard Arnold.

"We continually strive to find new ways to communicate with our global following of 659m people. This emoji is another great tool for our supporters to connect with the club through a digital environment, particularly as the excitement builds for Sunday's match."

Oh yeah! The match.

That thing that happened yesterday when United played Liverpool at Old Trafford, with #Pogba beaming on the advertising boards at regular intervals - creating the peculiar scenario of a player surrounded by a cartoon image of himself.

United promised something special if he scored yesterday, but, with his 19th minute chance arriving as the advertising boards all read 'Chevrolet', the marketing man in him may have decided to drag his shot wide rather than risk not gaining maximum exposure.

At the other end, Pogba was beaten in the air by Dejan Lovren four times before giving away a penalty with the type of idiocy that made him a hot topic on Twitter, but not for the right reasons.

Pogba is clearly an outrageously talented player and a magnificent physical specimen, but while it was premature to dismiss him as a waste of money early in the season, it's the other side of the same coin to laud a four-time Serie A winner for playing well against Sunderland, Middlesbrough and West Ham.

As there often is when Jose Mourinho teams are playing well, there were stories on Saturday about the atmosphere of peace and love being created by the manager, just as there was before things went belly-up against Manchester City earlier in the season.

Pogba, naturally, was on message in an interview with BBC's Football Focus, in which he praised his manager while speaking almost exclusively in slogans.

"He told me not to listen to anybody, just be focused on the pitch and enjoy yourself," Pogba said. "That is all I am doing. He talked to me. He made me very comfortable and confident. He said: 'You know how to play. Do what you want.' He let me be free on the pitch. He told me just to enjoy myself. That is it. That is all I need to hear from the manager."


None of those sentences sound like anything Mourinho would say and, judging by yesterday's performance, Pogba was taking the 'do what you want' message to heart with far too many touches on the ball. It's an indulgence he can afford against lesser teams, but while he might be a better player than many of his opponents, yesterday is exactly the sort of game in which he is meant to prove it.

Nobody is going to market a campaign around defensive marking, but for £89million it's not unreasonable to think Pogba - who uploaded a video of himself getting his haircut to go with the emoji launch - might risk smudging the yellow 'PP' logo and put his head on the ball.

Having moved back into a deeper role with Michael Carrick substituted, Pogba at least had to play with more discipline, but his most noteworthy contribution was losing possession with an extravagant back-heel, allowing Liverpool to break and giving Georginio Wijnaldum a chance which he should have taken to wrap the game up.

It's speculation to argue that the emoji rubbish affected Pogba's display, but in terms of leadership or making a difference, at home to Liverpool is exactly the sort of game in which United greats are made, regardless of how 'connected' their online presence allows them to be with supporters.

After yesterday's performance, very few of them will have been watching with a :-)

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