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Solely to blame or a victim of circumstance? A look at Paul Pogba's Man United career


 

Speaking to the media ahead of Manchester United's crunch trip to the Emirates on Saturday, Ralf Rangnick confirmed that star midfielder Paul Pogba is unlikely to feature for the Red Devils again this season:

"The doctor told me it will take four weeks minimum for him to recover and the last game is the end of May. I don’t think that it is very likely that he will be able to play again [this season]."

With the Frenchman's contract due to expire in the summer, this of course means that Pogba may well have pulled on United's famed red shirt for the final time, ahead of seeking out a free transfer prior to the commencement of the 2022/23 campaign.

And what a fitting end this would prove for a player who, frankly, never managed to even come close to fulfilling the expectations placed upon him at Old Trafford.

Pogba, of course, made his return to Manchester in the summer of 2016, amid widespread fanfare.

Having honed his craft on the books of Italian heavyweights Juventus across the four years prior, the now-29-year-old developed into what many, at the time, viewed as one of the most complete midfielders in world football.

Pogba possessed all of the traits - touch, vision, an eye for goal, ability in the tackle, athleticism, stamina - required to guide Manchester United's ranks in the middle of the park into another stratosphere.

Or so it seemed...

Paul Pogba Manchester United

To his credit, the French international's first season back in Manchester actually proved largely successful, as Pogba went about adding some desperately needed creative spark to the Red Devils' midfield.

Such traits proved key to Jose Mourinho's troops marching all the way to glory in both the EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League.

Remarkably, however, these remain, to this day, Pogba's only pair of silverware hauls across the entirety of his United stint.

Has the Paris native been deserving of more? Perhaps.

Pogba's underlying numbers remained impressive throughout the early years of his spell back in England, with a six goal and ten assist haul in the Premier League in 2017/18 followed by 13 goals and nine assists the season after.

These are of course the kind of numbers that few out-and-out midfielders in world football are capable of stringing together on a yearly basis.

So, who was to blame for such endeavours failing to translate into additional silverware?

The truth is that both Pogba and Manchester United must share the collective blame for their combined failures over the course of the last half-decade.

When it comes to Pogba himself, the most lasting criticism when looking back at his time at Old Trafford will always be that the World Cup winner simply didn't fully commit to the United cause.

All too often, Pogba's production soared across stretches in which the Red Devils were enjoying on-pitch success, providing false hope to the club's loyal fanbase en route to their side putting five or six goals past Premier League rivals.

Just this season, for example, the gifted midfielder racked up a quartet of assists in an opening day drubbing of Leeds, sparking inevitable suggestions on the part of the United faithful that, finally, Pogba may be set for a dominant campaign from an individual standpoint.

As the weeks and months passed, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side began to stutter, though, so too did the Frenchman's form fall off a cliff.

The kind of world-beating highs and excruciating lows that few players across the globe are truly capable of recreating. An enigma in every sense of the word.

It would therefore be easy to suggest that Pogba himself should be held solely accountable for his own shortcomings in Manchester, from a motivational standpoint at the very least.

But such a conclusion, in truth, would be doing the 29-year-old a disservice.

Upon agreeing to take his talents back to the Theatre of Dreams a full six years ago, it goes without saying that a vision of success was no doubt laid out in front of Pogba, in which he would be surrounded by elite talent ready to guide United back to the top of not only the English game, but the continent's summit, too.

The fact of the matter, however, is that such squad building simply never came to fruition.

Countless big-name arrivals did make their way through the revolving doors at Old Trafford - Alexis Sanchez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Raphael Varane to name but a few.

But the underlying constant at Manchester United has remained that, since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, the club has simply not put itself in a position to succeed in the long-term.

The Reds' problems run so much deeper than simply the efforts of their players on the pitch, amid the widespread agreement that United have set themselves up for failure by means of a cultural shift which has placed commercialism above trophies.

Perhaps the biggest mistake of all on the part of those in a position of power at Old Trafford in splashing out a club record £89 million on Pogba's signature in 2016, though, was the assumption that the Frenchman was ready to 'lead' a top midfield.

Pogba's most prolonged success across his career to date has of course come whilst lining out for a combination of Juventus and France.

With the former, the one-time Le Havre prodigy was surrounded by one of the most complete midfields in world football, benefiting from the talents of the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal on a weekly basis.

For his country, meanwhile, Pogba's finest exploits came whilst supported by the ever-busy duo of N'Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi, the kind of profiles which he has so long been crying out for back in Manchester.

Though his lack of leadership qualities are no fault of United's, the club are fully to blame for their failure to surround Pogba with the kind of engine room partners which would have best allowed him to express his elite technical talents more consistently.

The inability to identify and remedy this situation by means of the transfer market simply set the stage for disappointment on both sides of the equation.

Last weekend's targeted abuse of Pogba at Old Trafford made clear once more the feelings of a large section of the Man United fanbase - that the Frenchman has overstayed his welcome.

And, in defence of such supporters, on the surface, it is hard to argue otherwise.

All told, when removing external factors and focusing on Pogba and Pogba alone, the 29-year-old has simply failed to live up to either his potential or price-tag across his 2nd stint in Manchester.

However, fans of the Red Devils must not overlook how badly the club's misfiring midfielder was too let down by those in a position of power at United.

The 'Pogback' fairytale seems unlikely to have been built on a vision of a midfield featuring the talents of Fred and Scott McTominay...

If Pogba has indeed already lined out in the colours of the Red Devils for the final time, then all parties need simply hold their hands up, admit to their mistakes, and learn from the situation with an eye to avoiding similar shortcomings in the future.

 

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Conor Laird

Conor Laird

Die-hard Juventus fan with a love for all things Italian, and a real soft spot for Arsenal cult heroes. Emmanuel Eboue, Nicklas Bendtner, Philippe Senderos... Give them all statues outside the Emirates.



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