“I mean the Paul Pogba deal, I don’t get Paul Pogba. He doesn’t fit into Manchester United,” said ex-Liverpool midfielder Jason McAteer after Manchester United’s loss to Burnley on Wednesday.
“There’s a reason why Sir Alex Ferguson got rid of him in the first place. But they [United] bring him back. Is it commercially? Because to me, he just upsets the dressing room. He’s got too much of an influence on the younger players, that’s not what you want.”
“You want James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, you want them players in the dressing room, who would drive the young players forward, who are saying ‘this is how you live your life, if you want to win the Champions League, the Premier League, get to finals of Europa League’s and FA Cup’s and Charity Shield’s, you live like this, this is how you do it’,” McAteer continued, seemingly unaware of the drivel he was expelling to beIN Sport viewers.
Now, should you ignore the fact that Paul Pogba, since returning to Manchester in 2016, has reached both the Europa League and FA Cup final, then McAteer might actually have a point. Should you ignore the fact that, unlike Milner, Henderson and Lallana, Pogba actually ended up lifting the Europa League whilst being labelled Player of the Tournament in the process then again, McAteer’s analysis would be credible. Better yet, if we completely erase Pogba’s four Serie A titles, his two Coppa Italia’s, his two Supercoppa Italiana’s and his 2018 World Cup-winning campaign from our memory, then McAteer might be worth listening to.
If, however, we chose to live in the real world, where football doesn’t only exist in England, then McAteer’s analysis is not only extremely lazy, it’s laughable. In fact, every point he puts forward is based on entirely what he wishes to believe about Pogba rather than any form of factual evidence. His choice to opt for the Sir Alex Ferguson jibe is usually the first sign of someone who holds an opinion on Pogba that is more deep-rooted than just his contribution to United.
For instance, in 2014, Evra revealed that his former manager had requested he convince Pogba to stay at Old Trafford, telling La Republica: “Sir Alex Ferguson sent me to his [Pogba’s] house to convince him to stay. Ferguson knew that Pogba would become very strong, but also that he could not force the issue.”
Ferguson himself has never once taken responsibility for Pogba’s departure from the club in 2012 and in his book Leading, the Scotsman admitted there was an eagerness to tie the Frenchman down to a new contract, however, Raiola had disrupted such plans. “There are one or two football agents I simply do not like, and Mino Raiola, Paul Pogba’s agent is one of them. I distrusted him from the moment I met him,” Ferguson wrote.
“We had Paul under a three-year contract, and it had a one-year renewal option which we were eager to sign. Raiola suddenly appeared on the scene and our first meeting was a fiasco. He and I were like oil and water. From then our goose was cooked because Raiola had been able to integrate himself with Paul and his family and the player signed with Juventus.”
Both Evra’s and Ferguson’s words are no new revelation and are known to most educated football fans, yet there are many, most commonly ex-players turned pundits, who persist with the idea that Ferguson ‘got rid of Pogba’ as if the 26-year-old wasn’t already in the first-team fold aged 18.
What makes McAteer’s comments even more astonishing is that Pogba didn’t feature against Burnley. In fact, the midfielder has played a total of 71 Premier League minutes for United since 30th September 2019, a 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal, a game Pogba wasn’t fully fit for that later left him sidelined once again. Without their record signing for most of the season, United sit fifth in the table, level on points with Wolves and one ahead of newly-promoted Sheffield United. In the last seven league fixtures, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side have lost four, losing against Watford (2-0), Arsenal (2-0), Liverpool (2-0) and Burnley (2-0) and the Norweigan has lost more games (12) than he has won (11) since being appointed on a permanent basis, per Squawka.
It’s not just McAteer, though. Roy Keane has placed similar blame on Pogba for results he has not been involved in. During Sky Sports’ coverage of United’s loss to Liverpool, Keane said: “United over the last year, they will be inconsistent. They’re with younger players, they have had injuries. They’ve got Pogba in the background who’s been a nuisance. You’ve got to get rid of these people in your club and that doesn’t happen overnight. Players are running the show.”
There is very little, if any, evidence that would support claims that Pogba has been a nuisance behind the scenes at the club. Pogba is a 26-year-old family orientated man, who does not drink, who has never been the result of any form of scandal yet he finds himself being constantly criticised for an imaginary lifestyle that only exists in the heads of old fashioned and out of date ‘experts’.
Patrice Evra, who sat alongside Keane has he blasted his French companion, hit back the Irishman’s claims and launched a deserved defence of Pogba, saying: “To be fair, when he’s playing people blame Paul. When he’s not playing, people blame Paul. I think sometimes it’s time. When you play, they blame you. When you’re not playing they blame you also.”
Back in July, in an exclusive interview, a former United youth team player spoke about Pogba’s attitude behind the scenes, revealing: “The narrative that Pogba is bad for the club is untrue, everyone at the club loves him. He will have a conversation with everyone, no matter who you are. Everyone has spoken to him, from the youth team to the cleaners. In training, he would always say ‘if you don’t know what to do, pass it to me even if I’m marked’.”
“Nobody at the club would have a bad word to say about him. From the chefs to the coaches, the teachers at college and all the other staff. He’s the perfect person at the club. Everyone was always impressed with the effort he made on the United Foundation days. He would always go the extra mile rather than just turning up, and made an effort to make their day.”
Solskjær himself defended Pogba’s off the field attitude in November after claims he was not taking his recovery from injury serious enough. “Every player is allowed to be injured when he’s injured and Paul is working hard to get back,” the United manager said. “No one can doubt his professionalism, his willingness or his desire to play football.”
The constant attack on Pogba’s professionalism and the suggestion he negatively influences his team-mates are claims that have never once had any legs, yet the theories never seem to end. Pogba returning from injury to play 90 minutes against League 1 Rochdale in the League Cup whilst not fully fit before then facing Arsenal and suffering a setback only led to him being criticised even further, despite his best efforts to return to help his team. The claims, usually from the likes of Graeme Souness, Roy Keane and now Jason McAteer, seemingly always come from those with no insight into Pogba’s personal life, but as mentioned earlier, just how they deem him to behave based on how they perceive him.
Pogba is not the cause of the Premier League’s highest-paid director, Ed Woodward, being incapable of performing his job to the required standard. Pogba is not the cause of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sánchez being allowed to leave the club without any replacements being signed. Pogba is not the cause of United’s non-existent playing style or structure within the team, especially when he’s not anywhere close to the pitch.
The narrative-driven ways of British punditry see Pogba as a blessing. There’s always United’s number six to fall back on should they not be capable of drawing any form of conclusions after watching yet another disappointing performance under whoever may be in charge of the club. The club struggled before Pogba and they will struggle after him. Manchester United are, as of now and probably the past six years, a dysfunctional football club that doesn’t provide a platform for many to succeed, let alone one player, or one manager. From top to bottom, everything is off. These are the real issues. They are talking points with factual evidence that need discussing.
The fact that certain individuals are immune to criticism also shows that the attack on Pogba is and has never been just about his pricetag. Harry Maguire became the most expensive defender in football history when he signed for United for £80 million and after Ashley Young departed for Inter Milan, Maguire was named captain of the club. As a central defender, Maguire should be a leader with or without an armband. The last two games United have lost 2-0, and Maguire lost his man for Burnley’s opener. If it was about price-tags and reputation, why hasn’t Maguire come under the same criticism as Pogba?
If the criticism towards Pogba was due to him underperforming, why is it continuing when he is recovering from surgery on his ankle? If McAteer did have doubts if Pogba was a leader and wished to offer words of advice, why has he attacked his lifestyle, labelled him a bad influence, and then told him to be like Milner, Henderson and Lallana, the latter who, by the way, has a red card to his name in an U23’s game after putting a Tottenham teenager in a headlock after being on the receiving end of a bad tackle.
Evra was correct in his suggestion that it’s time for Pogba to leave the club. Not because he hasn’t justified his price-tag, not because he has caused any form of negative influence on the rest of the squad and not even to raise funds. No, Pogba has to leave Manchester and England in particular for the sake of his career. He turns 27 in March, and nothing he will ever do at United will ever be good enough. Pogba’s exit won’t suddenly make the club compete for titles, in fact, it’s likely to reduce the chances. British punditry will remain lazy, it will continue with its racial and xenophobic undertones but the scapegoat will just differ. At United, Anthony Martial will likely replace Pogba, if he hasn’t already, whilst Woodward and co. continue to oversee the downfall of a football club.
Pogba already has a career at 26 that most pundits would die for, but he still has time to create more history in a place where he is loved by those around him and for that reason, his exit would be best for all parties, but most importantly for him.
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