Pogba’s cameo offers Reminder of his Brilliance and Importance to United
For over an hour, Paul Pogba watched on, as Manchester United huffed, puffed, and pondered at the bio-secure White Hart Lane, in a bid to avoid a first defeat in 12 games, as football returned for these two teams. United had spent most of the hour on the front foot, but found Spurs had to break down, and were behind after Steven Bergwijn ran through the heart of the Red Devils defence and fired in the kind of sucker punch similar to the one he gave his opponent’s neighbours Manchester City in January, a hundred years ago.
There’s an undeniable aspect of Manchester United that when opponents sit deep and invite them on, they not so much fail to RSVP that invite, but rather don’t seem to know how make themselves feel at home. Playing on the front foot and dictating the game has never seemed to work well for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. That’s probably embodied by summer signing Daniel James, who almost makes them tick in transition and is great when there’s green grass ahead of him, but is of little aid when the spaces are congested, and seems incapable of helping to break down sides.
That was definitely the idea behind spending money on Bruno Fernandes back at the start of the calendar year. Solskjaer – like many observers – recognised that his side can’t break down teams, and they needed to if they were to significantly improve. Claiming counter-attack-birthed scalps against stronger sides will only go so far and without coaching complex attacking movements these days, you’ll be left behind. Fernandes was brought in to help with that problem, and while he’s done that to an extent, there’s still so much that has to be improved on.
Enter Pogba. Before coming on in this game, the Frenchman had barely been seen on the pitch since autumn, but had hardly been off the headlines. There’s been talk of Pogba’s departure from Old Trafford being inevitable, while in January, he inexplicably faced criticism after United’s defeat to Burnley despite not even being in Manchester.
But none of those chat can get in the way of recognising Pogba’s ability on the pitch, as the kind of player who can grab a game by the neck and run the show. And at White Hart Lane, his display for half an hour was the exact opposite of ‘don’t believe the hype’. Don’t fall for the media con, this is a tremendously talented footballer.
Over the past four years, Pogba has had to do many things at United; lead but not make things about him, be the ball winner, dictate the play, and at the same time get significant goals. It is that kind of burden of responsibility that has had the Frenchman do too little of too many. But in North London, he basically had one task; get United looking up again. And there was no question that he did.
It wasn’t just that Pogba had a 94% pass completion rate, completed a couple of dribbles, and won the penalty that earned the visitors a point. It was that from the moment Pogba got on the ball, United had Spurs in panic mode, and the lead the opponents had worked to protect was at its most threatened. It was that he looked to be everywhere, gliding past opponents here, stringing a delicious pass to Marcus Rashford there.
The question has always been whether Pogba is good enough for United. The Frenchman’s display was a reminder that if there should be a question, it should be whether United are good enough for Pogba. He looked destined to leave not long ago, but the state of things and the financial repercussions might see him at Old Trafford for another year, which might get him to buckle down for this running. And only a ridiculous amount of obtuseness will make one deny how much of a benefit that will be for Solskjaer and United.
Kunle Ajao126 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not