This week, Paul Pogba became the first footballer to get his very own emoji on the social media platform, Twitter. Typing ‘#Pogba’ automatically generates a picture of the Frenchman’s face in profile.
It’s a bizarre achievement and one that epitomises the hype and extravagance that has surrounded Pogba since his association with Manchester United was re-ignited in the summer.
United’s kit sponsors adidas exuberantly supported the club’s interest in the player, unashamedly encouraging his departure from Juventus. They built an entire marketing campaign around the 23-year-old’s signing, promoting him as the new face of football, enhancing his – and in turn their – appeal to the younger generation. And Pogba, for his part, has been a willing participant.
His summer transfer saga was unlike any the football fraternity had ever seen before. From the ‘blah, blah, blah’ ads while the rumour mill was rife with news of his move to Old Trafford to confirming his arrival with a video featuring grime star Stormzy.
Since taking to the pitch, there’s been no doubt about Pogba’s ability but what’s also been evident is his incessant need to live up to the hype he continues to help generate. Many gawked when United forked out a record Dhs395 million (£89m) to re-sign the Frenchman.
The player himself certainly seems anxious to prove that he’s worth every penny.
That pressure has often shown in his performances. Pogba has been one of United’s best players of late and an integral part of their 16-game unbeaten run across all competitions but he consistently gets himself tangled up in his desire to impress.
The midfielder has opted for the flashy in virtually every game this season when the simple would have been just as effective. He seems almost physically repulsed by a sideways pass at times, determined to instead take his man on in the middle of the park.
He can sometimes waste precious seconds trying to shimmy and feint his way past an opponent while a team-mate lies in wait to advance an attack. It’s normal for a player of his calibre to set high standards for himself but how much of that is due to his need to justify the social media frenzy?
Against Liverpool on Sunday, Pogba literally handed the Merseyside club the advantage when he clumsily handballed inside the box to give away a penalty in the 13th minute. James Milner expertly dispatched his effort to leave United playing catch up for the rest of the game and Pogba chasing redemption.
His desperation to correct the mistake led to arguably his worst performance in a United shirt. He began to misplace passes, get caught out of position and allowed the frustration to get the better of him. It didn’t help that he was also probably ruing his missed chance early on when played in by Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Naturally, Pogba was given a lot of flack over his new emoji in the aftermath of a poor performance by his standards.
The France international has a massive online presence with more than 12 million followers on Instagram and counting. There’s nothing wrong with being active on social media, of course, but one wonders if all the attention he attracts adversely affects him on the pitch. The spotlight is firmly fixed on him, the media waiting with bated breath for a slip up.
The fact that a new advert featuring the adidas x Pogba Collection launched on Monday, the morning after the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, doesn’t bode well for him. The press predictably berated him for indulging in the promotion of his own image at the expense of his performances.
Sir Alex Ferguson certainly wouldn’t have stood for any of it. In fact, he regularly went out of his way to take a player out of the glare of the media as a means to protect and refocus them. With Pogba though, you wonder if taking a step back is even an option.
There’s no point trying to deprive Pogba of his natural flamboyance or insisting that he keep it simple on the pitch. But there’s a vast difference between playing with confidence and playing under pressure.
People tend to forget that he’s only 23 and that he’s only really had one terrible game. There’s a long way to go until he hits his peak and that is a genuinely frightening thought.
#Pogba is here to stay but it’s maybe time for him to take it down a notch – less than one hairstyle per goal would probably be a good start…
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