IS POGBA GOOD? A TALE OF HIS YEARS IN MANCHESTER

Yes, Paul Pogba is good, and people who question that either don’t know soccer, or are deluded Manchester United fans who believe he is, “ruining the team”.

To be honest, this question should’ve been answered on a cold winter night in Turin back in 2013. Udinese came to town, and Antonio Conte, Juventus’s coach, selected Pogba to play in a pivot midfield with Arturo Vidal. Now keep in mind that Pogba was only 20 at the time, and Juventus only had a 2 point lead in the league. Now I know if any of you have ever used twitter, or vine, you have seen the goal that he scored. 35 yards out, top left, bar down, stunner. After that he added a second goal, and the holder of the golden boy award at the time sealed the three points for the Italian side.

Jump forward, it’s the 8th of August, 2016. Pogba has just completed his move to Manchester United, the most decorated club in the biggest league in the world. He had just won his 4th Serie A, his 2nd Coppa Italia, and he had made the 2015 Fifa World XI. Pogba could win, Pogba could play, and Pogba could act. He was a big personality, a popular guy who liked to talk and go out, and have a good time. He was one of the most popular players in the world. I guess this added on to his transfer fee, which became the talk of the English media, but with his ability on the pitch, combined with his marketability, it was a no brainer for Utd. 

Its funny to think that even today people say was he was overpriced, but when United do sell him, they’ll actually make money off of him. I think it was Mourinho who, right after the time of the transfer, said that the fee soon would be looked at as a bargain due to market inflation. He knew what was coming in terms of player prices. Today, right now, Pogba’s transfer is the 5th largest ever. It set the record in 2016. He’ll probably push it down to 6th in 2019 with the price of his own transfer…. Also imagine if the original Pogba transfer was happening now, a 23 year old midfielder the caliber of him? 200 million, easy. 

What I’d like to do here is break down how his 3 seasons went at Manchester United. 

SEASON 1: 2016/2017

It all started with his debut against Southampton. 2-0 Win, Ibrahimovic scored twice, easy rolling. That game, to this date, is still the best I’ve ever seen not only Pogba play, but any midfielder in the history of my time watching soccer play.  This isn’t even an exaggeration, he was that good. Long switches, whipped balls forward, defensive recoveries, chipped balls into the box. He was doing it all, he could do everything! It was the 80th minute and my family left for dinner without me because I needed to watch those last ten minutes of Pogba. It was sensational.

 A shaky September then ensued until the defending champs, Leicester City, came to Old Trafford. United came out on a different level that day, hitting the Foxes for four goals in the first half. Pogba picked up his first goal in a United shirt by heading in a Daley Blind provided corner in the 42nd minute. United’s eight games after that saw them only win one, and pick up just 10 points. During that stretch they got beat by the future champions Chelsea, 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. Pogba’s output in terms of goals and assists may not have been there, but his play was still solid. He was their leading man in the Europa League, and was firing them to glory in the EFL cup. Even though United would go on to only lose two more games in the league, Pogba still took heat. United won 3 trophies that year, the Community Shield, the EFL cup, and the Europa League, (Pogba taking home the player of the tournament in the latter). The season ended with things looking on the up. The relationship between Pogba and Mourinho, United’s manager, was solid, the team had Champions League football, and the club was presumably prepared to spend big in the summer in order to make a push for the Premier League title. I remember calmly going to bed after the Europa League final thinking, “we have great players and a great manager, our future is bright.” 

SEASON 2: 2017/2018

The summer of 2017 changed the landscape of English football, and World football transfers. Manchester City went out and bought the team Pep Guardiola needed, spending almost 300 million euros. Liverpool’s summer didn’t involve record breaking fees, but rather signings that fit the style that they wanted to play. Salah and Robertson came that summer, and gave Liverpool legitimacy in a season that would see them participate in the Champions League. Manchester United that summer actually did make three solid signings, but the reality was they needed more. Ed Woodward, Man Utd’s CEO, first bought Victor Lindelof, a Swedish defender playing at Benfica. Lindelof clearly was not ready to immediately start in the league, and would need time to adapt to English football. Still if the Center Backs could stay healthy they could do a decent enough job to put Utd in the top four. United also addressed their need for a striker by spending 84 million euros on Romelu Lukaku from Everton. They also purchased two time Premier League winner, Nemanja Matic, from Chelsea. The real noise of the summer came from Paris, signing both Mbappe, and Neymar, both of which for a lot more then what United paid for Pogba. 

For once in his career, Paul actually had a pretty carefree summer. He had no international responsibilities, and decided to spend a few weeks in Los Angeles. This was probably when he peaked in popularity amongst United fans. Videos spread like wildfire of Lukaku at Pogba’s house right around the time of his transfer to United. It felt like we had our guy, a galactico type star, a player that other superstars would want to play with. He was only 24! We were seemingly making all the right moves.

Does anyone else remember 4-0 FC? Those first few games that season were simply incredible. Everyone seemed to be stepping up; Matic, Lukaku, Rashford, Martial, Mkhitarian, and yes, Paul Pogba. United’s opener was home against a new look West Ham team. The Red Devils hit them for four, with Lukaku scoring twice as well as Martial, and Pogba adding goals. The next week they traveled to Swansea, and proceeded to put four past them as well. It was the best start imaginable.

The sad part about the 2017/2018 season was that no matter how good United were they weren’t going to win the league. Manchester City won 32 games, tied 4, and only lost 2. United’s season was actually pretty good. They finished 2nd with 81 points, and they made the Fa Cup Final. The peak of the entire year was the 3-2 win at The Etihad against Manchester City. Down 2-0 at halftime with City primed to clinch the league, Paul Pogba and Manchester United decided to turn up. Paul scored 2 goals within 90 seconds to tie the game, and then Chris Smalling tapped in a set piece to give United the lead. Paul that year scored 6 goals and had 10 assists. Although he was putting up very similar numbers to what he did at Juventus, he was still being written off as a “flop”. 

What doomed Manchester United, and ultimately Paul Pogba, was the January of 2018 transfer window. United stumbled upon a seemingly no brainer transfer. Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal had a contract that would be up in 6 months. Arsenal had no desire to re up him, and were looking to offload . United offered Mkhitarian for Sanchez, while also offering Sanchez astronomical wages to get him to accept his side of the deal. Ultimately the transfer happened, and United received a winger who had scored 25 league goals the previous year. Meanwhile, down the road in Merseyside, Liverpool were making moves. Fan favorite Philippe Coutinho was forcing his way to Barcelona, and Liverpool reluctantly accepted a 145 million euro bid for him. They then re invested the money by signing Virgil Van Dijk, a Central Defender from Southampton, for 85 million euros. It was almost crazy that a defender from Southampton was going for that much. I was ecstatic, Liverpool had lost Coutinho, and only added an average defender in the minds of most. We had just gotten Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez was even better than Coutinho, forget this Van Dijk guy. We were in 2nd, Liverpool were in 4th, we were the prime team to challenge the dynasty that City had built. Oh, and did I mention we had Paul Pogba.

SEASON 3: 2018/2019

What a wild summer, I mean what a WILD summer this was for us Manchester United fans. It started off great, our guy Pogba helped carry France to its second ever World Cup victory, firing home a goal in the Final. Lukaku looked like a world class striker, scoring 4 goals in 6 matches. I guess the World Cup distracted us from the fact that our board was doing nothing to strengthen our team. I mean sure we finished 2nd, but we were 19 points off the leaders. Mourinho was adamant that the club needed a new Central Defender if they wanted to compete. The two names that seemed to always be linked with United were Harry Maguire, and Toby Alderwerield. In classic Man Utd fashion they not only failed to sign either of the managers two targets, but failed to sign any Central Defenders in general. What they got that summer was an overpriced Brazilian midfielder, a 38 year old goalie, and a 19 year old Right Back for the future. From SkySports to our own manager, everyone was dropping hints at a disaster season. 

On top of everything going on with transfers, it was a weird dynamic between Pogba and Mourinho. For some reason it just seemed like all of a sudden Mourinho didn’t like him. Sure, Mourinho had benched him in favor of Mctominay the year pryor in the Champions League, but it wasn’t like the boss had anything against the player. Everything now was different, the team was set up to fail. 

Pogba did score within two minutes against Leicester in the first game, but this might have been the high for him, and United for the next four months. It was all over before the first international break, when Tottenham hit United for three in a shutout win at Old Trafford. After the game in his presser, Mourinho said something about how he’s won three Premier League’s, and every other manager in the league only have two combined. Ya, I kinda liked it because it was edgy, and funny, but at the same time it was weird, and it distracted from the mess that were the 11 on the field. 

Mourinho’s behavior from the start of the season to the time of his sacking was extremely odd. To this day I believed he was trying to get sacked the whole year. In his mind before the season started he decided that the team was bad, and realized he couldn’t do the job he needed to. In fairness to him, he just didn’t have the players. We couldn’t compete with sides like Liverpool, and City, and ultimately, after a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool, Mourinho was shown the door. 

Now I know that everyone thinks the big battle (made out by the media), was Pogba vs Mourinho. The club had to choose one or the other, they couldn’t coexist. Man Utd fans almost had to pick a side, Mourinho or Pogba. 

Its true that Pogba shouldn’t have came out of this looking like a choir boy. He certainly was partly responsible for his sacking. Then came out the, “sponsored advertising” instagram post, which seemed to be a shot at Mourinho right after his departure. I honestly don’t believe Pogba is a bad guy. I think some of the people that he chooses to help manage him bring him down. His agent, Mino Raiola, certainly does him no favors when he talks to the media. Paul does care about Manchester United, he does care about the fans. All Paul wants to do is win. 

With Mourinho out, Utd needed a manager for the rest of the season. They believed that club legend Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, who was managing at Molde, would fill the role perfectly. He brought a cheerful dynamic to the players, and the fans. His job was to make us feel good, and guide us through the rest of the season. At the time we were nine points off 4th place Chelsea, and had a difference of 21 goals in goal differential. We also had a Champions League tie against Paris that everyone at the time believed would be a loss. He had the tough job of getting out of form players back on target, and back on pace in the League. Ole had something that none of the previous 3 managers had, the real Paul Pogba. 

Solskjaer’s first game was against Cardiff City. For the first time since Fergie, United scored five goals in a League game, and after that it was dominance for two months. In the first 10 games under Ole, Pogba scored six goals, and had five assists. He was in a form that none of us had seen before. Hands down, for those two months he was the best midfielders in the world. 

What helped Paul out during this stretch was that his players were playing up to his level. I think Paul gets bored when his teammates aren’t at the level he is. The reason that he looked so good on Juventus was because all the players around him were world class. If you look at his goals and assists at United, most of the link up play is with the good players. He was dynamic with Ibrahimovic, they were on the same level and sort of fed off of each other. The same thing happened when Rashford became Fernando Torres for three months. If Pogba had been on Madrid the past few years, we would have been talking about a midfielder for the ages. 

After we beat PSG, that season became hell. We only won five of our last 12 games. It was literally only March when I was thinking about how good our team was. Now its July and it’s a shocking difference. Paul ended the season with a club high 13 League goals, and 9 assists…. Pfft, let’s sell him.

PRESENT DAY

Guys, come on, Pogba is good. We are lucky to have him on our team. I know most of you probably don’t know who Kyrie Irving is, but their situations are very similar. I think that they were both severely misunderstood. Who wants to play for a team where the fans hate you, and blame you for everything, even though you’re their best player. Kyrie didn’t, he left to go play basketball in New York City, and you know what, Celtic fans (the team Kyrie was on) will regret how they treated him. Us United fans will feel the same way if Pogba leaves. It’s not going to help us. We won’t find a better midfielder to replace him. We have an elite player, we had an elite coach, were probably gonna end up forcing both of them out. Why are we making it hell for the good people. Next time anyone wants to slander Pogba, just think about the misjustice done to him by his own club. Yes, us, it’s our fault Paul’s not, “Pogba”.

@MUFCYank


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