No excuses, Pogba and Mourinho must get the best out of enigmatic Frenchman for Man United

Matt Jones - Editor 08:10 16/07/2018
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  • World Cup winner: Paul Pogba.

    Paul Pogba the Manchester United enigma, is now Paul Pogba a World Cup winner.

    How can a player struggle so badly throughout the last season to exert his dominance at one of the biggest clubs in the world, yet saunter to success with one of the biggest nations at the World Cup two months later?

    His sublime talent has now been showcased on the global stage twice, here in Russia where he was one of the top performing midfielders overall, following on from his breakout tournament four years ago in Brazil where he took home the Best Young Player accolade.

    He clearly has the taste for the spotlight – evidenced further by his outlandish hairstyles, celebratory dance routines and the ease with which he handles the glare of the public eye.

    Yet, this belies his struggles on the domestic front as he strives to live up to the weighty £89 million price tag which was placed around his neck when Manchester United brought him back “home” from Juventus two summers ago.

    Compatriot Kylian Mbappe usurped Pogba of his young player crown following France’s epic 4-2 triumph over Croatia on Sunday, while the teenage terror and Antoine Griezmann each netted four times over the course of the tournament.

    N’Golo Kante mercilessly and tirelessly chased, harried and tackled opponents. Raphael Varane was a calm and commanding presence at the back, looking like the top-tier defender we’ve seen him struggle to aspire to be at Real Madrid.

    However, Pogba outshone them all. His nine key passes were second highest for Les Bleus while only two players passed more (N’Golo Kante and Raphael Varane). Set up to catch and counter, Pogba’s 35 accurate long balls were the most from France’s midfield and an important characteristic of their play and added to that was his 22 tackles which was third most for his side.

    It’s not as if he has won the World Cup with far superior talent in blue than those alongside him in red domestically either.

    For Mbappe, Griezmann and Kante, read Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sanchez and Nemanja Matic.

    France manager Didier Deschamps is the international equivalent of Jose Mourinho – a pragmatic, defence-minded coach who has been chastised for failing to release a squad burgeoning with attacking talent from their shackles.

    Can Paul Pogba find his best form at Old Trafford?

    So that is no longer a valid reason for failure either. There can be no more excuses made for either Pogba’s inability to take the Premier League and Europe by storm, nor Mourinho’s failure to coax the best out of his brightest talent.

    A consistent caveat of the poking of holes in Pogba’s failures during his two seasons back at Old Trafford, and particularly 2017/18, was the friction which clearly existed between manager and magician – Pep Guardiola dropped a bombshell at the start of the year by claiming Pogba had allegedly been offered to United’s arch rivals Manchester City by his agent Mino Raiola.

    Cries came from some experts and fans suggesting the 25-year-old can only operate on the left of the 4-3-3, a system in which he thrived in Turin.

    Others opined United needed younger or more robust legs around or behind him other than the aging Matic and feeble Ander Herrera in order to allow him the freedom to roam forward.

    Yet the World Cup has dispelled these arguments as pure myth, with Pogba flourishing in an all-action role.

    Among his fellow Les Bleus colleagues, only Blaise Mutuidi and Lucas Hernandez made more tackles per game (2.2). Only Varane, Benjamin Pavard, Samuel Umtiti and Steven N’Zonzi made more blocks (0.2).

    His 1.5 key passes per game led France (Thomas Lemar and Djibril Sidibe made more but only played one game) while only the mazy Mbappe embarked on more dribbles (1.3) per game.

    His marauding runs ensured he was fouled on average 2.8 times per game, more than any team-mate, including the fleet of foot Mbappe and Griezmann.

    Contrast that with his woes with United last term. Only his statistic of 2.8 dribbles per game registered as superior to his exploits with Les Bleus this summer.

    His 1.2 tackles, zero blocks, 1.4 key passes and 1.9 times fouled per game all contributed to a difficult second campaign with his new, old club.

    But with the World Cup won, hope abounds that United will get this version of Pogba back for the new season as they look to bridge the gap to rivals City.

    They recorded best tallies of points, wins and goals scored and conceded since Sir Alex Ferguson retired last season – yet the 19-point gap to the blues across Manchester was the largest in the Premier League era.

    United fans and Mourinho should be buoyed by their star man’s shimmering form for his country this summer. If it can be converted from French blue to United Red, they will be in with a shout of closing the divide.

    Even Roy Keane, one of Pogba and United’s fiercest critics, was full of praise after the final. “I don’t mind Pogba dancing now. He’s entitled to it,” said the Irishman.

    Pogba, predictably, brought out his signature dab celebration in the aftermath of France’s triumph. It is now time for him to dabble in being the complete and dominant midfielder he has always promised to become.