Wednesday 19 June 2019

Alistair Tweedale: 'Paul Pogba is nothing like the player he was at Juventus - it would be best for everyone if he left Man United'

Manchester United's Paul Pogba reacts after missing a chance to score during a Group H Champions League soccer match between Valencia and Manchester United at the Mestalla Stadium
Manchester United's Paul Pogba reacts after missing a chance to score during a Group H Champions League soccer match between Valencia and Manchester United at the Mestalla Stadium

Alistair Tweedale

Once upon a time, not even three years ago, Paul Pogba was up there with the most exciting talents on the planet.

A marauding midfielder who could do it all, relentlessly charging up and down the wing, checking back to further embarrass a nutmegged defender, scoring goals of all types, from ludicrous positions, with absurd bend on his shots and goalkeepers left helpless.

He was totally unpredictable, yet you could rely on him as the best player in Serie A. It was no coincidence that in four years at Juventus he won four league titles, playing 124 of 152 games, aged between just 19 and 23.

Compare that Pogba, the one who was such a joy to watch, who was named in the Serie A team of the season three years running and won the 2014 World Cup Best Young Player award, to the withdrawn, error-prone player who now can't even get into the Manchester United team unless it's when the second team play terribly in an end-of-the-group-stage defeat at Valencia, and you are left wondering what might have been.

He arrived at Old Trafford the most expensive player on the planet, a hefty price tag weighing heavy on his young shoulders and with a huge amount of pressure to transfer his Juventus form to Manchester.

But under Jose Mourinho he has regressed. He has gone from untouchable midfield maestro to a passive passer who slows play down and, more recently to a player not even capable of improving a team sixth in the table with painfully obvious deficiencies both attacking and defensive.

Against Valencia on Wednesday night, Pogba was heavily involved but could not exert any influence on the game, while it was his uncharacteristically heavy touch which stuck in the mind... almost as much as the sitter he missed in the first half (though he was saved by the linesman's flag).

The oddly-timed statement last week by superagent Jorge Mendes insisting United are "very happy with Mourinho" and expressing the manager's "commitment" to his long-term contract smelled all too strongly of Mourinho trying to save himself preemptively if this situation is to descend into the manager versus player battle it is threatening.

Let's just say, for argument's sake, their relationship has become untenable. Let's consider the situation in a (not-too-distant) parallel universe where at Old Trafford it is Mourinho or Pogba.

Given the moribund feeling around Mourinho's tenure, it is easy to see how Pogba would win such a battle. But would it in fact be better for everyone involved if it were Pogba that moved on?

United could cash in on a World Cup winner who has 30 months remaining on his contract and, in a market even more inflated than when Pogba signed, might even be able to turn a profit on their £89m investment.

Furthermore, while Pogba is held to higher standards than many of his midfield team-mates, there is no getting away from the fact that he isn't outperforming many of them. Given his transfer fee, his underwhelming displays are only increasing the scrutiny on United and the negative feeling at Old Trafford, which might be avoided if he were out of the picture.

Pogba, meanwhile, would get the chance to resurrect his career under the guidance of a manager better suited to getting the best from him, and become the kind of player that dominates and dictates football matches somebody of his talent should - and not so long ago did.

Finally, the rest of us would have another shot at potentially being witness to Pogba at his free-flowing finest. Wouldn't it be great if we could have just one more season of him entertaining like he did so wonderfully in Italy?

You can't blame Pogba for wanting to prove United wrong for selling him to Juventus six years ago, but this move simply has not worked out. It's time for a fresh start all round.

Online Editors

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