Paul Pogba’s scintillating display against Jose Mourinho‘s Tottenham Hotspur side signified why he is Manchester United‘s most important player.
His sensational assist to Mason Greenwood for United’s third goal on the weekend and his quick-thinking back-header assist to Edinson Cavani last night in the Europa League amplified why he should be operating much further forward as opposed to being the deepest player in a defensive midfield partnership.
Utilised as both a left-winger and a defensive midfielder this season, some of Pogba’s best performances have come from playing on the left hand side. The attacking freedom Ole Gunnar Solskjær has provided for the Frenchman has allowed him to thoroughly thrive.
Last night Solskjær showed the world his precise thoughts on Pogba by giving him the armband in the absence of club captain Harry Maguire, when the likes of David de Gea and the ever experienced Nemanja Matic were available to choose from. This showed a clear sign of trust from the manager towards the Frenchman, and an indication that he wants him to stay and sign a new contract.Embed from Getty Images
The 28-year old is arguably more technically skilled than any other midfielder in the world while also portraying a physical advantage over most players. Pogba has shown to excellently operate as an all-round midfielder and a left-winger – as illustrated at Man United and his former years at Juventus.
Since Mino Raiola‘s comments on his client departing the club back in December, Pogba has conducted himself well and performed for Solskjær’s side.
Pogba started the 2020/21 campaign poorly due to an ankle injury and contracting Covid-19 in August. A few substitute appearances followed off the bench as Ole Gunnar Solskjær opted to start Fred and Scott McTominay over the 28-year-old.Embed from Getty Images
ESPN‘s Mark Odgen and Sky‘s Jamie Carragher labelled Pogba as “the most overrated player” in that period.
“I’ve been saying this for 12 months, oh my god, he is the most overrated player I have ever seen in my life,” Carragher said.
Odgen stated that “Paul Pogba is becoming this real enigma for Manchester United that never delivers.”
The Frenchman proved critics wrong and delivered in his return to form in December. Multiple matchwinners and continuous eye-catching performances saw him galvanising United to a title push before an unfortunate ankle injury in February ruled him out for a month.
United’s number six responded to criticism in an interview with Sky back in January: “When I play football, people are going to speak… people are going to share their opinions. People are going to say what they think, they are allowed to, free speech.”
Solskjær has publicly backed his midfield-man after his upturn in form at the start of the year, saying “we are seeing the best of Pogba now I feel. Getting better and better every game. He’s been injured and had Covid. It’s just natural that he needed some time to get fit.”
Pogba’s injury in February caused United to struggle. The Red Devils form plummeted as they went from first to going eight points behind Manchester City – dropping points against the likes of Everton, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Chelsea in his absence.
With the 28-year-old’s contract expiring next summer, replacing a player of Pogba’s calibre is most certainly not going to be an easy task should the Frenchman fail to sign a new deal. This is partly down to the complex issue of it being extremely hard to find a world-class midfield talent that can match Pogba’s ability as well as his leadership and charisma both on and off the field.
United, over the years, have had difficulties in replacing their top talents, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, who has not been replaced for 11 years after his record breaking move to Real Madrid in 2009.
A world-class right-winger is a position that the club has not adequately brought in now since the departure of Luis Nani, although some may argue that United did briefly have that replacement in Angel Di Maria, who’s career at Old Trafford was short to say the least.
The Reds ambition in the summer transfer window could be key in could determining whether Pogba chooses to stay in Manchester or not. The club has failed to show ambition in recent years after qualifying for the Champions League, something that has hugely defined Pogba in his time at United so far.
It has been a common occurrence in the last few seasons where fans and pundits alike have witnessed United underperform as a side and Pogba is often the one that is heavily criticised.
After finishing 2nd in the 2017/18 season, the following summer saw United only spend £74 million on the likes of Diogo Dalot, Lee Grant and Fred.
2018/19 should have been the year United challenged City for the title, however instead the club failed to bring in top talents in the summer and winter window – the club’s league position consequently dropped that season as they finished 6th, 5 points off 4th placed Tottenham Hotspur and 32 points off league winners Manchester City.
It could be a similar feat next season should the club fail to invest in positions such as right-back, centre back, forward and defensive midfield. However, should Pogba decide to stay and sign a new deal and United choose to bring in a defensive midfielder and a forward; potential silverware could be on the cards next season.
Declan Rice is one target that United have been heavily linked with recently. The Englishman is a top defensive midfielder and could be the key man in strengthening the current United midfield, helping unleash Pogba’s attacking ability when required in a pivot role – giving Pogba more freedom to play a more expressive and expansive game.
The signing of Rice could also allow United the freedom to play a three-man midfield with Bruno Fernandes and Pogba just ahead of the 22-year-old. United will have the attacking prowess to create multiple opportunities with the two mercurial midfielders at their disposal.Embed from Getty Images
The Europa League this season gives United the chance to collect silverware they have been craving since the last time they won the competition in 2017. Pogba’s winning goal at San Siro to secure United’s place in the quarter-final now potentially sees United two games away from a European final.
However, if United were to fall in their pursuit of the Europa League it could allow him to seek pastures new at a club such as Real Madrid, with who he was linked before re-signing for United and during his career at Old Trafford so far. The 28-year-old isn’t getting any younger and a potential future Champions League medal could entice him to join Los Blancos – should they choose to target him.
After already snubbing the chance to join Madrid back in 2016 and missing out on three Champions League medals, Pogba could join Madrid in search of silverware he has failed to win at United.
For Solskjær’s Reds to become a dominant side, they must at least aim to bring in and attain their best players. United will need to act quickly if they are to keep their star-man. The departure of a player like Pogba could be one of huge regret for United, especially in upcoming seasons they aim to challenge in.