Football Features

Paul Pogba: Manchester United might just have the world’s most talented square peg right now

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:28, 4 November 2020

Paul Pogba continues to confound and confuse Manchester United fans with his performances.

The magnificently talented World Cup winner most recently put in a terrible performance against Arsenal, conceding the penalty that saw the Gunners pick up their first win at Old Trafford in 14 years.

That is the third penalty that Pogba has conceded already in just six games so far this season. In fact it’s even worse, because Pogba has started just four games this season. So that’s three penalties conceded in four starts, albeit with VAR having bailed him out against Brighton.

To make it even worse, if you go back two matches into last season (so United’s last eight league games) Pogba has actually conceded four penalties, three if you exclude the Brighton incident. And finally, in all that time, Pogba has scored zero goals and registered zero assists.

What is going on?

Paul Pogba

  • Age: 27
  • League stats under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (minimum 1,000 minutes played)
    • Goals + Assists: 20 (joint-third highest at club)
    • Chances created: 1.8 per 90 minutes (fourth highest)
    • Dribbles completed: 1.83 per 90 (third highest)
    • Tackles made: 1.59 per 90 (ninth highest)
  • Football Index value: £3.04 (Sell)  £3.34 (Buy)

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For years we’ve heard that in order to get the best out of Paul Pogba, Manchester United need to do any number of things. First it was to play him on the left side of a midfield three, then it was play him as a free-role with no defensive responsibilities, and then it was sign a world-class No.10 to play with him, and then and then and then etc. etc. etc.

Here’s the real scoop: Pogba’s problems at Manchester United are not related to tactics, not really. Obviously there are tactical tweaks that United can make to get the best out of the Frenchman, but it will never last, he will always go back to looking like a square peg in a round hole no matter what role this United side put him in.

Push him up and he’ll tear some teams to bits but will also get lost in the shuffle of games where United aren’t in rhythm, but play him deeper and, well, just look at what Arsenal did to him with the lightest of mid-block presses. It wasn’t pretty.

Pogba will never look comfortable at United because even though he has the talent to run every minute of every game every week, he won’t ever do that. He’s simply not that kind of player. Pogba is a Zidane-type. A player of moments, magical, spectacular highlights. A player of unfathomable physical and technical gifts who can devastate any team on the planet should he be in the zone.

But he’s also capable of drifting through games, adding absolutely nothing.

Paul Pogba’s Football Index value over the last three months.

And this has nothing to do with social media, haircuts or “focusing on things besides the game.” This is just simply the kind of player Pogba is. There’s nothing wrong with it, in fact. Plenty of great sides have done wonders by making use of players like Paul Pogba. Juventus, France and Real Madrid with Zinedine Zidane, for instance. Liverpool with Steven Gerrard. Boca Juniors with Juan Roman Riquelme.

The key to getting the best out of those players? Creating a team structure around them that means the team could function perfectly well without them. Have a team so loaded with structure and/or talent that it doesn’t matter if they turn up to play, because the side’s shape or the quality of the XI will carry it to victory.

Hell, France and Juventus have already done this with Pogba himself. Creating team shapes that didn’t need Pogba’s presence to work, but became much more potent for his pulsating presence. And they thrived, winning Serie A titles, reaching a Champions League final, and, you know, winning the World Cup.

But at Manchester United he is far too good to function in a team that, beyond Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, isn’t really up to scratch. Anthony Martial is talented beyond belief but is frustratingly inconsistent, Mason Greenwood is still developing and Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s genius is defensive so won’t help United carry Pogba. The rest of the players are not at the required level to carry Pogba.

It’s telling that Pogba’s two best spells at United coincided with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s dominance and the initial bump from Bruno Fernandes’ arrival. When two world-class talents elevated the entire club, creating conditions (albeit temporarily) where Pogba could strut his stuff. When United can play without Pogba, the Frenchman can then step in and supercharge the side. But until then he will continue to oscillate wildly between match-winning genius and match-losing absurdity.