As Paul Pogba fuels his Manchester United feud, he continues to do more talking off the pitch than on it
The brutal reality with Paul Pogba is that he remains so much quieter on the pitch than he does off it.
This was the main takeaway from a day when the midfielder made sensational headlines with his words, but did nothing of the sort with his actual football. Sure, Pogba put in another nicely fine performance in France’s Nations League curtain-raiser away to an unimaginative Germany, as he kept the midfield tight and offered the odd flash of inspiration, like one lovely touch past Toni Kroos.
He was like this for much of the World Cup, and has been for much of his Manchester United career, and it’s all quite satisfactory.
It’s because words like “satisfactory” and “fine” don’t exactly justify the words that Pogba so regularly comes out with as regards his career and future.
The latest was on the eve of this match in Munich: “My future is currently in Manchester, I still have a contract, I'm playing there at the moment, but who knows what will happen in the next few months.”
It’s just that, for the last two years for club and country, Pogba has looked little more than just another cog; almost a readily replaceable player. He wasn’t bought for a world-record fee to be a cog.
He was bought for that money to be irreplaceable, and the fact that still isn’t the case means any desire to leave won’t bother United in the way it might have. There are some figures around the club who believe the “unsellable” stance on such a commercial valuable is already loosening.
In situations with similar circumstances to this, the Jose Mourinho’s last few largely uninspiring years would have made it easy to take the player’s side against the manager, because so many attacking talents now seem so suppressed under the Portuguese. And it might still be true that we’ll never see the “real Pogba” under Mourinho’s restrictions, while some of his complaints with the boss might still be justified… but that doesn’t mean Mourinho is completely in the wrong here.
It’s impossible not to question why Pogba is coming out with comments like this; why he is so often agitating; why he can’t just knuckle down and try and improve himself and the team he’s actually at.
If he were to leave United in January, for argument’s sake, how many properly top performances has he actually had in two and a half years? Five? Three? That really is arguable. He is essentially coming out with some of the stuff that Cristiano Ronaldo did about Real Madrid - and “how God only knows the future” - pfrom 2007 on, but this was crucially after the Portuguese had already made himself a genuine club legend and one of United’s few Ballon D’Or winners.
Winning that is supposed to be Pogba’s dream, but he still isn’t doing much that is all that tangible to achieve it right now.
It says much that a central midfielder who won the World Cup and scored and offered a divine pass in the actual final still wasn’t really considered for Fifa’s ‘The Best’ awards, reflecting how even his performances in Russia were somewhat subdued, and subsequently overplayed.
Either way, they still don’t justify the midfielder overplaying his cards for the future.
Many might put it down to the influence of his infamous agent Mino Raiola, but Pogba is also a grown adult who has a responsibility for his own words and actions, and must show more responsibility for those than he is on the pitch. There, on the actual grass, he still just looks so much less than what he should be.
It is why there have been some shifts in positions at Old Trafford, as the player struggles to find his own best position.
Pogba does want to go to Barcelona and if he were to make that explicit to the club, and the Camp Nou hierarchy were to actually make a proper bid rather than play their usual media games - say, an offer of around £200m - United might seriously consider it.
Mourinho himself wouldn’t exactly argue against it, and Old Trafford sources say he would be willing to directly replace Pogba with Lazio’s Sergei Milinković-Savić.
All of this is still some way off - but so, apparently, is an assertive Pogba performance on the pitch to match his abrasive attitude off it.
Pogba did of course stop in the mixed zone after the game, where he made the claim "rumours are rumours... but it’s not me who is talking.”
It was far more audacious than anything he did on the pitch.