All good things must come to an end. This saying is especially true in sports, where no team, player or manager can stay at their peaks for years on end.
The latest in this very long list of names is Paul Pogba, whose career at Manchester United looks most certainly over. A thigh injury suffered during training with the France squad is expected to rule him out for around two months, meaning the next time he will be in action is most likely January.
🎥 Paul Pogba picked up the thigh problem in France training while taking a shot. [@RMCsport] pic.twitter.com/r07QOAklLJ https://t.co/TVnJgK7fzU
— UtdDistrict (@UtdDistrict) November 8, 2021
By then, he will only have six months remaining on his contract with United and would most likely be deep in discussions regarding his future. Those talks should not be with the Red Devils, as Pogba’s form over the past seasons has not been great.
More worryingly, his most recent outings have been atrocious, and with a logjam of players in midfield, it makes little sense for the club to keep employing him, especially with all the transfer whispers surrounding him.
AN INCONSISTENT ENIGMA
Summarizing Pogba’s career up till now in the United shirt is no easy task. Having joined in 2016, he had five goals and four assists during that season. Pogba has always been a midfield dynamo, known for his outrageous ball playing and supremely pure strikes. He has averaged a passing accuracy of 83% over the last four seasons from his role in central midfield.
🤪 Serge Aurier (6) created more clear-cut goalscoring chances than Paul Pogba (5) in the Premier League last season pic.twitter.com/bQxXTF183s
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 28, 2021
Though he has a tendency to drift all over the pitch, Pogba mostly gravitates towards the left-wing. His best campaign personally came in 2018-19, with 13 goals and nine assists in the Premier League. He has been a one-man wrecking ball but when he hits his best strides, it’s impossible to outplay him.
📂 Man Utd
└📁 Premier League
└📁 Player stats
└📁 Most goals
└📁 Most assists
└⚠️ Are you sure you want to open all files of this type? pic.twitter.com/G8SD7dpjDw
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 16, 2019
Unfortunately, those consistent performances have been on the wane for some time now. Everyone is in agreement that it is impossible to predict which version of Pogba will show up on any given matchday.
Things have been further complicated by his agent Mino Raiola. There is no love lost between United and Raiola over Pogba with the latter’s comments over the years seen as an affront to the club’s handling of the player.
Mino Raiola to Rai Sport: “Paul Pogba is out of contract in June, so we’ll talk with Man Utd and we’ll see what happens. Juventus? Paul still loves Turin. There’s a chance that Pogba will return to Juventus, yes – but it also depends on Juventus plans”. 🔴 @CorSport #MUFC #Juve pic.twitter.com/dQvi8ckDGY
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) September 17, 2021
Pogba has been seen as an easy scapegoat by some, criticized for his low work rate and ineffective play at times. That has led to Raiola making statements like Pogba will leave soon during almost all of the past transfer windows and that he is not being able to showcase his best abilities here.
Mino Raiola (Pogba's agent) to Tuttosport: “I can say that it’s over for Paul Pogba at Manchester United." pic.twitter.com/Wncir4ZLpG
— FutbolBible (@FutbolBible) December 7, 2020
Pogba has only managed four goals and six assists in the league since that breakout season for United, and the arrival of Bruno Fernandes has further dented his chances. Moreover, one has to also look at the tactics and lineup deployed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to better understand why Pogba’s utility is less than it once was.
NO ROOM FOR PREFERENCES
Fernandes’ superlative performances since joining in 2020 have meant that Pogba is no longer the most advanced midfielder on the pitch. With the formation now 4-2-3-1 (or the 3-5-2 which will be discussed later), Solskjaer has consistently stuck by Fred and Scott McTominay in the 2 while Nemanja Matic is in reserves.
In any case, Pogba is pretty ineffective when played as a defensive midfielder as already shown over the past season and most recently in the dismal loss to Leicester City.
😬 Paul Pogba's last seven WS ratings for Manchester United:
5.96 vs Atalanta
5.10 vs Liverpool
6.49 vs Atalanta
5.79 vs Leicester
6.20 vs Everton
6.57 vs Villarreal
6.75 vs Aston Villa pic.twitter.com/BckWYeMCW6
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) November 9, 2021
To counter that problem, Solskjaer used Pogba on the left-wing of the three-man midfield to start the present campaign. The Frenchman put in his best match of 2021, notching up four assists against Leeds United. That was the high point that is unlikely to be matched in his remaining career as a Red Devil.
🅰️🅰️🅰️🅰️ vs. Leeds United
🅰️ vs. Southampton
🅰️🅰️ vs. Newcastle United
Paul Pogba already has 7 PL assists this season, including 6 in 2 games at Old Trafford. 🏠 pic.twitter.com/gOqTTvYPhX
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 11, 2021
The headache really began when the injured players started returning. Marcus Rashford is the incumbent of the left flank while newly acquired Jadon Sancho has also been used there. The explosiveness of Mason Greenwood on the right flank means that side is also out of consideration. Even Anthony Martial has been played ahead of the Frenchman as was the case against Everton.
Pogba’s positional conundrum has meant that he has featured in little more than 100 minutes over the three games since the fiasco at the King Power, and those have really not been up to the mark. Having come on as a halftime substitute against Liverpool, he was sent off within 15 minutes for a dangerous challenge.
7 – Manchester United received seven cards in their 5-0 defeat to Liverpool (six yellows, one red), their joint-most in a Premier League match, alongside the seven yellow cards they received against both Spurs and Chelsea in February and September 2008 respectively. Indiscipline. pic.twitter.com/ZbqH4DsHHM
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 24, 2021
If Pogba thought he would have his redemption in the Champions League against Atalanta, it was not to be. Solskjaer once again set up the 3-5-2 formation, with Pogba alongside McTominay and Fernandes. His most notable contribution came when he tried to shield the ball near his own penalty box from two players while trying to walk it to safety.
Paul Scholes wasn't happy with Paul Pogba's performance against Atalanta 🤐 pic.twitter.com/2XoEpe67Pj
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) November 3, 2021
It backfired spectacularly and almost ended up gifting Atalanta a goal along with inviting a storm of criticism from onlookers. The rest of the match was as forgettable as it could get before he was substituted with 20 minutes to go.
TIME TO MOVE ON
It is not like United do not have options in Pogba’s position already. Jesse Lingard is being used somewhat by Solskjaer, coming off the bench in most games to try and impact them. Speaking of coming off the bench, forgotten man Donny Van de Beek has been a sight for sore eyes. The Dutchman has featured in consecutive games for the first time since who remembers when.
Paul Pogba problem should give Manchester United a simple Donny van de Beek decision #mufc https://t.co/99i78j5U04
— Man United News (@ManUtdMEN) November 10, 2021
Both these players play the same role as Pogba and need game time to hone their skills back to the best they can be. If Solskjaer were to stick with the 3-5-2 in the long run, that means there will in any case be space for only one player alongside Fernandes and McTominay/Fred.
Paul Pogba | Man United player ‘makes no secret’ of renewal desire – Wants to ‘break all salary records’ in PL history.
Source close to player says Pogba exists in own bubble, which helps him ignore criticism. https://t.co/g6xCEI4pUr #mufc
— Sport Witness (@Sport_Witness) November 10, 2021
In any case, there has been no need for an attacking midfielder in United and it makes little sense to enter into complicated negotiations with Raiola over Pogba’s continuance. They will be wise to cut back on this salary and use the funds on a world-class defensive midfielder as the team desperately needs.