When Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United in the summer of 2016 the anticipation was high. Not only had the club broke the British transfer record to get the Juventus star, but he would be making a long-awaited return to Old Trafford and linking up with serial winner Jose Mourinho in the process.
What could go wrong? Well in many people’s eyes, a lot.
His relationship with Mourinho was fractious at best, and it never seemed like a perfect match. Pogba is a player who needs to be given an element of freedom in order to be at his best and produce those match winning moments expected of him. Mourinho is a manager who expects more than that from his players.
In the victory over Leeds United Pogba was given that freedom by Ole Gunnar Solskjær, and with it came his best performance in a United shirt, picking up four assists becoming only the seventh player in Premier League history to do so.
The assist from deep rounded off by an expert finish from Mason Greenwood was the pick of the bunch.Embed from Getty Images
His outing displayed just why United need him now more than ever.
But let’s not sit here and deny that overall, he hasn’t produced world class performances on a consistent basis in the five years he has been back at the club. He hasn’t, but he is capable of doing so, and is it entirely his own fault.
In order to ‘get all of the best players into the team’, many times he has been played in a holding midfield two by both Ole and Mourinho.
However, all of Pogba’s great games have come from him playing further forward and to the left, which was the position he played against Leeds.
When Marcus Rashford returns from injury, he will likely regain his place, begging the question where does Pogba start?Embed from Getty Images
There has always been the option to play him in a midfield three further forward and alongside Bruno Fernandes, it’s an option that Ole has been reluctant to chose due to his trust in the ‘McFred’ partnership. Or perhaps rather him not trusting the central defensive partnership, therefore feeling the need to protect them as much as possible.
The arrival of four-time Champions League winner Raphaël Varane from Real Madrid should now remove any doubt on the capability of the back four.
United are a holding midfielder away from being able to unleash Pogba, against Leeds we got a glimpse of just how good he can link up with not only Bruno, but the rest of the forward line.
A lot of people aren’t firm believers in building a team around a player, but when you have talents like Pogba and Bruno why not play a system best suited to them and give them the freedom they desire.
Doing so could be the difference in games like it was against Leeds, and potentially the difference in a season.
What if he leaves?
It feels like every transfer window since he arrived there has been speculation about him leaving. Of course, how he and the club fair on the pitch will contribute to that, but so does how he and more importantly his agent conduct themselves off it.
At various points throughout seasons Mino Raiola has leaked to the press Pogba’s desire to leave Old Trafford for a new challenge, speaking about how he wants to achieve success. The timing of these announcements has often been before big games or after big defeats, and have ignited fury from United big wigs and even the manager.
What’s most interesting is that these haven’t come from Pogba himself, he has always got on well with Ole, with the Norwegian telling BT Sport how he’s “had a great relationship with him since he was a kid.”Embed from Getty Images
But when you have an agent like Raiola, it’s not a surprise that he is only thinking about his own interests, and how he can get the best deal financially for himself. If he does leave, then his most likely destination is either Real Madrid or Paris Saint Germain, and it would be difficult for United to replace him.
They wouldn’t be getting a big transfer fee, and with the Glazers reluctant to invest big, it would be a struggle. It’s exactly why the Red Devils need to do everything in their power to convince him to stay, luckily, they have a few strong arguments.
With Spanish football in turmoil, the Premier League is the place to be right now. For the Frenchman, there is always going to be the lure of PSG, but the quality of football in Ligue 1 isn’t what it is in England.
Many believe that with a year remaining on his deal the right thing to do would be to get what you can for Pogba now, but to have that level of quality in your squad for even one more season is surely worth it.
It’s quality that could lead United to a Premier League title. If that happened, then surely he would be satisfied with the success achieved and would want to remain at the club anyway.