With Jose Mourinho’s much anticipated second season at Old Trafford looming, Khel Now takes a look at why the Frenchman is key to their success in the future…
When Manchester United announced the blockbuster return of French midfielder Paul Pogba from Juventus on August 9th last year, many hoped that this could be the beginning of something special under new manager Jose Mourinho. Having signed the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pogba seemed like the icing on the cake and United were themselves sure that the prodigal son would lead them to success.
But things didn’t exactly pan out that way as The Red Devils had a rather frustrating campaign where Pogba was labelled a “flop” by many due to him not delivering performances on a consistent basis. While that is factually incorrect, United put a big chip on Pogba’s shoulders and he failed because of the lack of strength in midfield. The Frenchman was made to play as an attacking midfielder on occasions where he’d defend more than he could attack, often covering the tracks of the wingers or other marauding players.
Paul Pogba’s last season’s performance have dipped this season
Mourinho probably noticed the flaw in his plans and in an interview after his side impressive Europa League Final win over Ajax, he stated how he’d given Ed Woodward his “list” of players wanted during the summer. While a few boxes have been ticked off that list, the resolution of defensive midfielder situation is vital to United’s chances of improvement next season.
Pogba is the kind of player who needs defensive cover behind him and if one sees him play for France with the likes of N’Golo Kante behind him, his true potential can be ascertained. Pogba was absolutely devastating in France’s 3-2 win over England recently, shining in his free role and causing havoc to England’s midfield.
The Red Devils are looking to sign Eric Dier or Radja Nainggolan as options now that Nemanja Matic’s reunion with Mourinho looks unlikely and as a deal needs to be struck fast to help Pogba reach his true potential for United next season. The Frenchman is someone who is linked to almost every player on the pitch, as he often threads balls to the wingbacks and wingers and also goes wide to create opportunities for more compact football. But the former Juventus man has often had to come back to help out his defenders to keep possession. The signing of Viktor Lindelof not only boosts United’s defensive strength but also ensures that the ball will come out of the defence easily because of the Swedish international’s impressive ball-playing skills.
Pogba has been lebelled a ‘changed’ player this season, and not in a positive way
United are also desperate to acquire the services of Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic which has been questioned by many considering the Croatian is 28-years old. But not only does Perisic have an impressive attacking record, he is naturally a sound player defensively as well and Mourinho is intent on signing defensively-sound wingers rather than lavish ones like Mkhitaryan, who only got a place in the team after working on the defensive side of his game. This is something which will tremendously help Pogba’s game as well as he could now drift into the channels easily without having to worry about covering for his over-stretched wingers.
Another factor which was criticised last season was Pogba’s link-up play with the strikers, mostly that with Ibrahimovic. But stats show that United tended to create more chances with the two playing together and the Frenchman assisted Ibrahimovic many times as well. Now with Romelu Lukaku replacing the Swede, Pogba could find the ideal foil ahead of him on the pitch and know Lukaku’s excellent finishing skills, Pogba will relish playing with somebody who can properly anticipate his balls and finish the chances he creates.
Ibrahimovic broke off the duo this season as he joined MLS
While some people might criticise United for making these “defensive” type of signings, the Red Devils are more intent on getting the most out of their true superstar in Pogba rather than signing more like him (which could be a mightily costly affair). Despite all the criticism he has taken for his performances last season, Pogba still had one of the best-attacking stats in the Premier League and had an impressive 9 through ball creating chances, the most by any midfielder in the league. He might not have been on target that often in the season, but his key stats were still better than most.
What makes the Frenchman stand out from the rest of the squad is his incredible passion and leadership skills on the pitch despite being only 24 right now. He might be goofy outside the pitch but is hungry to make his team win on the pitch and often tries to lead from the front. Now with Wayne Rooney having left the club, Pogba could assert himself as United’s leader on the pitch and if some of the pressure is taken off his shoulders, the Frenchman can be extremely influential on The Red Devils game and encrypt the winning mentality on the pitch as well.
Pogba has even escalated from “just a player” to something even bigger for United recently, as he played a big hand in landing striker Romelu Lukaku for the Red Devils. Paul is great friends with Lukaku for years now and the two even live close to each other at Manchester. They always take vacations together and Pogba influenced Lukaku to choose Red Over Blue (in Chelsea) despite the Belgian looking set to return to his former club, much like Pogba had done a year earlier. Pogba was also set to woo fellow national team-mate Antoine Griezman to the Theatre of Dreams before he decided to stay loyal to Atletico Madrid in their time of crisis but Agent P (as he calls himself) is already playing a big hand in landing star players for United.
In a recent interview with ESPN, Pogba and Lukaku were questioned about who among them would be the “better analyst” and who’d be the “better coach”. Pogba went on to state that he’d be the better coach because he interacts with younger players very well and likes to be vocal on the pitch. While he later retorted that he’d be the “assistant coach”, Pogba is the man around whom Manchester United should revolve around for the next few years at least and knowing his potential in a role without any limits, he can be the man to take United to their promise land once again.