Former Manchester United defender Paul Parker says the club’s star midfielder Paul Pogba has issues with attitude and consistency that wouldn’t be accepted at Real Madrid or Barcelona – two clubs that have been linked with a move for the Frenchman.
The 26-year-old struggled to influence proceedings as United crashed out of the Champions League quarter-final this week after a 3-0 loss in the second leg against Barcelona.
Pogba was far from the only player who struggled but his performance brought renewed criticism of his ability to turn up for the big games – less than a year after starring in France’s World Cup triumph, where he scored in the final.
The performances he produced last summer in Russia haven’t come as often at United, even after a change in manager as Jose Mourinho’s departure and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s subsequent arrival brought an upturn in form.
Pogba is enjoying the most productive season of his career, with 16 goals and 10 assists. But in 12 games against the rest of the Premier League’s top six across all competitions and Champions League encounters against Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, and Barcelona, he’s managed just one goal and two assists, a lack of performance that Parker, who won two league titles in five seasons with United, highlighted as a cause for concern,
“There’s definitely ability with Pogba but if you want to be seen as the best you have to show consistency,” Parker told Eurosport.
“You can’t pick and choose when you want to play games of football because somewhere along the line it’ll come back and bite you.
“Now he didn’t perform under Jose Mourinho and everyone saw the problems with the former United boss as a person and as a man manager.
“When you’ve got someone who comes in and puts their arm around you and puts to bed the situation before, you can’t be letting them down and, more importantly, you can’t be letting your team-mates down.
“If you want to be seen or talked about or someone who’s maybe going to play for Real Madrid, they are not going to accept performances like that against Barcelona – and an attitude like that.”
These pages are usually the preserve of Europe’s top five leagues – but a certain Benfica starlet is making so much noise that he is impossible to ignore.
The aim of this column is to shed light on the players, aged 21 or under, who aspire to lead the game into a bold new era.
Without further ado, here’s our five picks from last weekend’s action.
Joao Felix (Benfica) Age: 19 Position: FW
Key stat: 7 combined goals/assists in last two games after 4-2 win v Vitoria
Some 16 years ago, a post-David Beckham United sent scouts to Portugal searching for some inspiration. All reports suggest they are casting their eye that away again – and it’s easy to be besotted by Benfica’s Joao Felix.
Anointing him the next Cristiano Ronaldo we are certainly not, but Felix is a true all-rounder from the same stock. The 19-year-old looks scrawny – just as CR7 did many moons ago – but is surprisingly hard to knock down.
Indeed he knocked Vitoria flat with a lashed strike in the 4-2 victory that keeps Benfica’s necks level with Porto at the top of the Primeira Liga, and chipped in with another two assists in what is becoming a typically all-action display.
The teen can play anywhere across the forward line, oozes confidence – averaging nearly four shots per league game since the start of February – and almost always justifies it, having come into the game off the back of a hat-trick against Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-final first leg.
It’s no wonder half the world is interested in him. If you’re United, who do you attempt to sign – Felix or Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho? The Portuguese undoubtedly belongs in the same tier of talent.
Love how teenage sensation Joao Felix scores another brilliant goal and then goes over to celebrate with his 15 year old brother ❤️ pic.twitter.com/4DSsb27B5x— The Man Utd Way (@TheManUtdWay) April 14, 2019
Jean-Clair Todibo (Barcelona) Age: 19 Position: CB
Key stat: 7 successful tackles on La Liga debut in 0-0 draw v Huesca
Gerard Pique is beginning to feel his age. Samuel Umtiti is feeling pain in his knees. But don’t worry, Barca fans – it looks like the club hierarchy has installed a successful succession plan in the centre of defence.
La Liga basement boys Huesca it may only have been, and a stalemate at that, but Todibo was remarkably assured on his La Liga debut he had waited patiently for since signing in January from Toulouse.
He made seven successful tackles in total and was perfection personified in denying Huesca attacker Chimy a clear run on goal with a sliding tackle.
Promisingly, the Frenchman also had no qualms adopting to the Barca way, barely misplacing a pass alongside Umtiti and the similarly impressive new boy, Jeison Murillo, in a three-man defence.
Barca have needed to replenish their stocks for a while, and 19-year-old Todibo could prove the ideal tonic.
Jean-Clair Todibo vs Huesca— FootballTalentScout (@FtblTalentScout) April 13, 2019
95% pass accuracy
2 dribbles won
6 tackles won
1 aerial won
Looked very good in that three-man defence. Superb debut! 🔵🔴 pic.twitter.com/VqXisJqn8l
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund) Age: 19 Position: RW
Key stat: 10 goals, 13 assists in Bundesliga after brace in 2-1 win v Mainz
This boy may as well be written into this column in permanent marker. Sancho hit a first-half double that kept Dortmund on pace behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga after the humbling at their hands last week.
Sancho stormed into the box to produce a controlled finish from Mario Gotze’s cross and, seven minutes later, ghosted in there to notch his second via a deflection. The Mainz defending was abominable but the England whizkid seemingly has a knack for turning invisible. That’s quite a skill allied to such blinding pace.
According to whoscored.com Sancho also contributed four ‘key’ passes. Only Gotze (3) notched more than one for Dortmund.
I’ll leave you to think about how good he is.
Jadon Sancho was at it again this weekend... 🔥 pic.twitter.com/LJEPY8PfBM— Goal (@goal) April 15, 2019
Juan Foyth (Tottenham) Age: 21 Position: CB
Key stat: 6 aerial duels won in 4-0 win v Huddersfield
So far Juan Foyth’s Tottenham career has been a mixed bag, but he pulled a special performance out of it over the weekend.
Yes, it’s Huddersfield – England’s Huesca – but the relegated northerners showed their fair share of pluck and Spurs’ young Argentine rose to the occasion.
It wasn’t so much his effortless defending, but how he adapted to the game’s circumstances. Spurs are a far superior outfit and Foyth had a swagger about him that suggested he knew it – risk-taking high up the pitch, tackling, dribbling and playing intelligent balls.
Lucas Moura grabbed his second goal because the 21-year-old was doing exactly that, winning the ball at halfway on the byline, of all places, before playing inside to Moussa Sissoko who stormed up the pitch to turn provider.
Similar to Barca’s situation, Jan Vertonghen won’t be around forever and Toby Alderweireld’s future is in question. In Foyth and Davinson Sanchez, they have two young men who are not just talented, but growing in stature.
Juan Foyth (21) vs Huddersfield;— Football Scouts (@FootbaII_Scouts) April 13, 2019
90 Minutes Played
89% Pass Accuracy
13 Ball Recoveries
10 Duels Won
6 Aerials Won
2 Dribbles Completed
2 Tackles Completed
1 Chance Created
A very solid on the ball performance from the 21 year old 🌟 pic.twitter.com/dxmXZWvMW1
David Brooks (Bournemouth) Age: 21 Position: RM
Key stat: 4 key passes made, plus goal and assist, in 5-0 win v Brighton
The least celebrated name on this list, but near enough the same calibre of player. David Brooks has arguably been the signing of the season in the Premier League, despite a couple of recently disappointing outings, and that he plays for little old Bournemouth should not be held against him.
The Cherries, on their day, are one of the most exciting outfits in England’s top tier and the Welshman has only cranked the thrills up another level. Nominally a right-sided midfielder, Brooks cuts in not only with speed but with almost prescient vision.
Look at how fast he played the ball into the box to spark Bournemouth’s first against sorry Brighton. How he saw space developing and nipped the ball off Josh King’s feet before driving into the area for his goal. How his goose feather lay-off to Callum Wilson handed Bournemouth their fourth.
The 21-year-old is in the perfect place to develop – though the top six may come calling before long.
David Brooks’ game by numbers vs. Brighton:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 13, 2019
11/18 final third passes
6 ball recoveries
4 chances created
1 big chance created
What a season he’s having. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/1aBNqZhgwk
Juventus could take advantage of Samuel Umtiti’s uncertainty at Barcelona if they snap up coveted Ajax centre-back Mattijs de Ligt, according to reports.
Umtiti, 25, has endured a frustrating 2018/19. The World Cup 2018 winner with France faced a five-month spell out because of a knee problem and then lost his spot in the starting XI to uncapped countryman Clement Lenglet.
This situation could be further complicated this summer if, as expected, the La Liga champions win the €60 million battle to sign De Ligt.
Rai Sport have declared that Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici is contemplating an approach for the ex-Lyon defender. Umtiti signed a signed a contract extension in June 2018 until 2023 that contained a €500m release clause, plus a significant salary hike.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery has also expressed an interest in signing him if a sale is countenanced by Barca during pre-season.
The Frenchman has scored twice in 95 appearances for Barca since a €25m move from Lyon in June 2016.