Thursday 22 February 2018

I returned to the Reds a man - Pogba

Paul Pogba celebrates after scoring Manchester United’s fourth goal against West Ham at the weekend. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP
Paul Pogba celebrates after scoring Manchester United’s fourth goal against West Ham at the weekend. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP

James Ducker

With that golden stripe emblazoned in his hair and diamond-encrusted silver earrings bearing his initials, PP, in each ear, Paul Pogba is hardly someone who wants to go unnoticed.

He demands attention as much as he invites it. Not all attention is welcome, though, and much like his manager at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho, who expressed hope that Pogba would be superseded this summer as the world's most expensive footballer, the Frenchman is clearly not going to protest about Neymar taking over a mantle that, at times last season, appeared to weigh heavily.

The £198 million fee that Paris Saint-Germain paid Barcelona for the Brazil forward is more than double the £89 million United handed Juventus for Pogba 12 months ago and, freed of what Mourinho described as a "problem tag", the midfielder is already seeing a difference.

"Last season the first question from everyone was always all about the price tag," Pogba said yesterday.

"Now everyone is asking about the football. That tells you everything."

Pogba is talking outside Old Trafford's centennial suite, where a mural by cult American graffiti artist Alec Monopoly is being unveiled in conjunction with United's official watch sponsor, Tag Heuer.

There is an inevitable buzz around Pogba, who is only too happy to try graffiting a United shirt adorned with his name before retreating to a corner to talk to a small huddle of reporters while hungry autograph hunters gather round with their pens and cameras.

Dividing

Much like Monopoly, Pogba is a curious blend of both maverick and mainstream but he is not interested in dividing opinion any more.

He says he left United for Juventus in 2012 a boy but has returned a man and hopes Sunday's emphatic 4-0 victory over West Ham - when he capped an impressive performance with a goal and appeared liberated by the presence of new signings Nemanja Matic beside him and Romelu Lukaku up front - offered a taste of things to come.

"When you know the team more you know how to play alongside them," Pogba said. "You get on better. You just get a different feeling. You can see against West Ham everybody was getting along well and playing for each other.

"It was an excellent start to the season but what matters is the end. We have started well but we have to carry on like this. Matic was a key player and Romelu scored two goals so it is what we wanted and what we expect. But it is only one game.

"When I left I always felt like I had missed something at United because I wasn't a first XI player. Now I'm happy to be back. I grew up a lot in Italy and I have come back as a man.

"I am always confident and now it is my second season. I know more about the Premier League and I adapt more with the team."

Lukaku is a close friend but it is clear Pogba believes Matic could be a catalyst for him. "Against West Ham, Matic was starting behind and I could worry more about attacking. I feel good playing that way," he said.

Pogba was better than many gave him credit for last season. He hit the woodwork nine times and put numerous chances on a plate for team-mates that were spurned but the jury is still out for some. David Moyes, the former United manager, questioned last week whether Pogba could be a game-changer.

"Is he someone who will score the goal at really important stages in games or make the key pass? I'm not sure about that," the Scot asked. Similarly, Paul Scholes, who knew a thing or two about scoring goals from midfield for United, insisted Pogba "needs to start scoring big goals". Pogba does not disagree, even if he did score in the Europa League final victory over Ajax.

"I hope to get more goals," he admits. "I hope this season I won't touch the post so much. I know the occasion will come and I will always create something but it is the result that matters. You cannot win a game by yourself."

Infectious

Can he offer 20 goals from midfield, as the likes of Scholes, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Yaya Toure have done in the past? Pogba flashes that infectious smile.

"If I take penalties!" he says. "Look, it is not about who scores the most goals. You could score 50 goals this season but you might not win anything. What matters is winning the Premier League.

"I came here to win the Premier League and to challenge myself. You could make so many assists, so many goals but if at the end of the season you lose the league it doesn't matter. What you may have done individually is good but what matters is winning trophies."

And that is attention worthy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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