Manchester United signing of Paul Pogba for a record fee of over a hundred million pounds continues to monopolize the thoughts of footballers, fans, managers and other persons that view the game of football with keen interest all over the world. The outlay on Pogba’s purchases, it must be said at once, is no child’s meager purse money. And to whom much is given, as the time-honored saying has it – much is also expected. When it comes to aphorisms Mr. Shakespeare can never be bested. To be, or not be? That is the puzzle.Will Paul Pogba live up to his billing in his second stint at Manchester United, or will he join the unenviable set of players who flopped spectacularly after clubs have expended huge sums of money on their purchase?
This is not the appropriate place and occasion to discuss the vexed issue of whether footballers are overpaid, or whether the services they offer are commensurate to their astronomically high wages.
Admittedly, it not the making of Pogba that such an amount was paid for his services, but football being such an emotionally charged sport, with supporters and employers eager for quick results : it is almost certain that Pogba would come in for a deluge of fair and unfair criticisms should he perform below par in the football season that has just begun. A look at the first match he played for the club showed a young man eager to impress; he made marauding runs in the mid-field and the final third of the pitch and also doubled his offensive play with defensive duties. His work rate in that game against Southampton showed a player alive to the burden the money paid for his recruitment places on his shoulders. At the end of that game, he deservedly won almost universal plaudits from the fans of his Club and those of rival Clubs. In a similarly manner, pundits who monitored the match all spoke in unanimity of the positive energy he injected in to the performance of his side in the pitch of play.
A single match, however,is not always indicative of how a player’s season since will pan out. The hosanna singers of his performance in the first match against Southampton may become the vociferous chanters for his crucifixion should the season end trophy-less for Manchester United. A trophy-less season for Manchester United is a frightening prospect in itself. What with the club’s employment of the self-anointed special one, José Mourinho; the prodigal amount of money spent on the purchase of players and the sea of the club fans champing on the bit for success on the field of play : heads would definitely roll should Manchester United not make at least the top four on the league table, or fail to win any of the domestic cup competitions, or fail to lift the Europa cup competition.
An idea of how Pogba’s performance would be judged at the end of the season can be deduced from the desperation of the club’s management to speedily return the club to the dominance of the Barclays Premier league once again. The club’s transfer policy since Sir Alex Ferguson resigned his appointment at the Club has at best been erratic. The management appears to reason along the line that returning success to the club can be achieved by buying the most expensive players and coaches in the market. This explains why the club over-paid for players like Marco Rojo, the now departed Angel Di-Maria, Anthony Martial, Luke shaw and now Paul Pogba. However, as events have shown in the past three seasons, success is not guaranteed by the huge amount spent on players.
The management of the club following the same flawed reason of buying success, recruited the services of three managers since Alex Ferguson retired. But how did the last two managers – Moyes and Van Gal – fared? The below par performance of David Moyes and the venerable Luis Van Gal, are well – documented. Louis Van Gal has come and gone, and now it is Jose Mourinho. Angel Di-Maria has come and gone; now it is Paul Pogba. So in keeping with the management’s knee-jerk approach to the various challenges besetting the club, it is either Pogba performs well or he shown the exit door. This unread riot act is not for Pogba alone, but is also there for Jose Mourinho who will embrace the same fate should he fail to transform the fortune of the club as soon as possible.
The reasonableness of paying over the odds for a player like Pogba,who is deemed as an unfinished article, continues to divide opinion long after the ink has dried indelibly on his contract paper.
Defenders of the hefty fee spend on Pogba have argued passionately that his success will mirror that of Cristiano Ronaldo at real Madrid. Their assertion throws up certain mind boggling questions. Does Paul Pogba technical ability approach those of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo? An answer in the affirmative is definitely out of the question here, but Pogba is highly talented in his own special way. Will Pogba be an instant success for Manchester United after the manner of Cristiano Ronaldo, whose record signing fee he has just overtaken? That, as it seems, is also an impossible eventuality, but Pogba can be instrumental to Manchester United making a title challenge and performing very well in Europe this season and in subsequent seasons.
If the answers to the questions above appear too subjective, then let’s switch our attention to his last competitive games that preceded his long-drawn transfer from Juventus to Manchester United.
The recently concluded European Cup competition gave those who had eagerly anticipated Pogba’s transfer to Manchester United an ample opportunity to watch him and to identify the strength and weaknesses in his game. Pogba, primed for the occasion with his distinctive hair cut and overly affected swagger on the pitch, gave a run-off-the-mill performance in all the games he played. A meager one goal return against Iceland was all he could manage. However, his performance during the competition showed his ability to play long distance passes with metronomic precision to team mates, a remarkable ability to shoot with both feet with almost equal ease and a great aerial threat when lurking around the the opponent eighteen yard box and an great aerial asset in defending his own eighteen yards box. Despite the flashes of brilliance he showed in those matches, he was never able to dominate play in the mid-field where he mostly operated. His games during the competition also showed that he is not the type of player that dribbles through a tangle of opponent legs when the game assumes a compact shape at any point in the field of play.
The essence of the game of football is scoring goals: little wonder clubs pay more for striker than mid-fielders, defenders and strikers. Manchester United purchase of Pogba who is a mid-fielder represented an unbelievable break with the normal practice of spending such money on strikers. But will Pogba score goals for the team on regular basis? Will other criteria be used to assess his performance at the end of the current season?
It is highly unlike that pogba’s season in Manchester United will be adjudged a success if he does not complement his general play on the pitch with goals. The number of assist he gives to the strikers up front will pale into insignifance should United fail to win a champion league position on the league table or win another domestic trophy or win the Europa League.
With United boasting a wealth of potent strikers in Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard;it is inconceivable that Mourinho formation would enable Pogba to have enough room for offensive play that would result into goals.
Another factor that would possibly hinder Pogba from finding the net in United shirt this season is the way Jose Mourinho usually set his team to play. Mourinho in his entire managerial career has always been an ultra defensive coach; and to his credit any team he manages always evinces a defensive solidity that allows very few goal into the net they guard. This approach, with all its merits, has an inherent weakness – it subordinates defensive play to offensive assault on the opponent. In Jose Mourinoh teams, no player is exempted from defensive duties. It stands to reason then that Mourinho will make maximal use of Pogba’s stature and stamina to shore up his defensive formation, which will without a doubt, blunt his attacking instinct. A proof of this assertion finds expression in Mikel Obi, a player Mourinho, with good intention, converted from an attacking mid-fielder to a holding mid-fielder in first stint at Chelsea. Today Mikel has settled into the holding mid-fielder role, but a cursory check on Mikel statistics in his Chelsea career spanning a decade, shows a miserable number of goals scored and shots directed at goal. This comment is no reflection on Mikel’s game in general.
Another reason why Pogba’s season may not be a success at the end of the season is related to a factor that rears its ugly head again and again in competitive sports – injury. Why it is no players fault when he is injured but there are instances when disturbing grumblings are directed at a player when his injury is detrimental to the team performance, especially when a huge amount is paid for such player. A case in point is that of Liverpool’s Daniel Strurridge whose Anfield career has been plagued with recurrent injuries. At the terminal part of last season, some Liverpool fans felt that Sturridge was not committed enough and that his injuries were mere excuses for defending his lack of application in the field. This sentiment was somewhat expressed by Jurgen Klopp who advised Strurridge to learn to distinguish between what he termed real pain and actual pain. Real pain and actual pains? A statement that came across as though Strurridge was feigning his injuries or lacking the manly pluck to soldier on with playing football in the face of minor bodily pains. These outbursts from the fans and manager were mere emotional responses borne out of frustration. It on record that whenever Sturridge is injured Liverpool struggles to score, it is not surprising that when the club fails to achieve its set goals frustration is vented on him because of his importance to the general performance of the team. In the same vein, should it so happen that Manchester United fail to achieve a reasonable measure of success this season, and Pogba suffers a crippling injury that rules him out from playing for a long time – the fans would also harbour a secret sense of disappointment and betrayal from their most expensive player, despite he not being responsible for his incapacitation.
The greatest factor that could militate against Pogba hitting the heights expected from him at United is how he handles the burden of expectation his sign-on fee imposes on him. The ability to stand back from himself and see himself as any other member of the team is very crucial to how he shakes of the oppressive thought of being the most expensive player on the pitch who most perform magic whenever the team is performing poorly. Trying to over-reach himself during matches will not help his cause. It would introduce a self-consciousness into his game that would blunt his knack of instinctive execution of moves during football matches. Avoiding this pitfall that fell many marquee signings in the past would be instrumental to making or marring Pogba’s career as the most expensive footballer in recent times.
One remarkable and admirable thing Paul Pogba has shown in his relatively short but successful career is the ability to rise about his limitations and put doubters wrong. His first stint at United showed a diffident young man still cutting his teeth on an act he would later improve on at Juventus, to such an extent that the very club that let him leave them for a paltry settlement are the very ones who have today paid a record fee to sign him. The logical implication of this observation is that Pogba, may in his characteristic manner, overcome the factors that may possibly hinder his performance in Manchester United, as argued in this piece, and record a glowing success in his new club. Should Pogba cut down on all youthful excesses, focus his mind on the task set before him in training, show good team spirit and listen to his coach and trainers – it is not unlikely that his name will not be numbered among the list of marquee signing who failed to justify the huge amounts that were spent on their transfer fees.
The season is still at its incipient stage, and there are still many unforeseeable happenings that will determine how it plays out for all each club in the Barclays Premier league. What is certain is that when the footballing competitions come to a close this season, an assessment of Paul Pogba contribution to his new club would have become clear to all and sundry