The Pogba Project Has Failed – It’s Time For All To Move On


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It was meant to be so different. Paul Pogba returning to Manchester United in 2016, coupled with the arrival of José Mourinho, was supposed to be the turning point in the club’s calamitous, at times comical, decline in the post-Fergie era. It was a transfer that brought genuine hope to United fans around the world. Where did it all go wrong?

Of all the players signed by the club over the last seven years, none has frustrated fans as much as Paul Pogba. On his day, the Frenchman is truly world-class. With bundles of skill, athleticism and a range of passing possessed by very few players across Europe, Pogba was worth every penny of the world-record £89m fee paid for him in 2016 – in theory.

His statistics last season alone support that claim, but too often in his three-and-a-half years, we just haven’t seen the best of him. Too often, I’ve found myself having to make excuses for him.

Unfair Expectations

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But it really isn’t all his fault. Four seasons into his second spell at the club, the World Cup winner can rightfully feel aggrieved by the shambolic state of this current United squad; a miss-mash of players signed by five different managers with contradictory philosophies and no unified strategy.

As we’ve seen with France, previously Juventus, and in glimpses in red, Pogba revels when surrounded by quality. The club have failed him, in that regard. Coming into his peak years, it’s fair that Pogba should expect to be challenging for titles and Champions Leagues, instead of struggling to make top 4 – and taking the brunt of the criticism for it not happening.

The weight of expectation placed on the 26-year-old’s shoulders has, at times, been excessive and unrealistic. “The press are expecting me to be a defender, a midfielder and a striker,” he complained in April 2017. “People judge me on not scoring goals and stuff. I give some assists to some people and they don’t score – it can happen. Nobody talks about that, but it’s fine.”

Then there’s the criticism of his social media activity, haircuts and celebrity lifestyle from former players and pundits whose only genuine gripe is that they never had it this good in their day. And most recently, the ludicrous suggestions of him faking an injury to force a move. Since the day he returned to Manchester, Pogba has been fighting a losing battle.

Silence Is Damning

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But any sympathy this author had for the way Pogba has been treated or mismanaged has been corroded by the daily circus – fuelled by his repugnant agent Mino Raiola – that surrounds him. Make no mistake, the agent works for the player, not the other way around. Pogba’s silence on the issue – aside from remarks in the summer that he wanted “a new challenge” – is damning.

It’s so clear that the player doesn’t want to be at United anymore, so it’s time for Ole and the club to take control and show that they are in control of the situation, not Raiola.

Ed Woodward took a tough stance in the summer, refusing to sell Pogba to Real Madrid for anything below the £150m asking price. Pogba’s commercial value alone makes this a fair valuation, especially in this inflated market, but the Spanish club were in no rush to pay that for a player they know wants to leave.

On the one hand, it was refreshing to see the club not be bullied in the market. On the other, it’s hard to believe the team would be any worse off had they sold him for a cut-price – his market value has decreased since then anyway – and used the money to invest in two new midfielders. If anything, the team may have been better off given that Pogba has only made eight appearances this season due to injury.

For The Greater Good

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There’s no denying that Pogba is by far United’s best player and the club can hardly afford to sell another midfielder without reinforcements, but the club have gotten rid of greater players in the past and survived. Pogba just isn’t worth the hassle, and even if it means more suffering in the short term, United are better off without.

When David Beckham’s celebrity lifestyle became too much of a distraction for Sir Alex Ferguson’s liking, he was moved on to Real Madrid without hesitation. Club captain Roy Keane got himself sacked after one-too-many public outbursts, while Ruud van Nistelrooy was let go as soon as he became a problem. Cristiano Ronaldo’s determination to join Real Madrid, just as he was arriving at his peak, was enough for the club to sanction a move, albeit a season later than he would have liked following a gentleman’s agreement with Ferguson.

Only in the case of Wayne Rooney, who questioned the club’s ambition before apologising and signing a new contract in 2011, have United conceded to player power – a decision that paid off.

It’s possible that Solskjær, who has never wavered from his public backing of Pogba since he took charge in December 2018, could have made a similar gentleman’s agreement with the midfielder. Give the club one more year to find a replacement, give everything to get United back into the Champions League and, more than anything, prove that you are worthy of the move you so desperately seek.

Whatever the case is behind the scenes, things haven’t gone to plan this season due to Pogba’s ongoing injury problems, and Raiola’s recent onslaught in the media suggests there’s still plenty of work to be done on a possible move away from Old Trafford. One thing’s for sure: Pogba wants out.

Though Woodward will be reluctant to sell and lose the club’s most prized asset – and all the commercial opportunities that come with it – Solskjær should do as he has often done since taking charge and ask himself: what would Sir Alex do? The answer is simple.

No player is bigger than Manchester United.

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