Paul Pogba signed for Manchester United in the dead of night and if the social media moderators at Old Trafford want a quiet day they might well announce his departure in the early hours as well.
The announcement of Pogba’s £89million signing six years ago was timed for an audience just waking up in China and knocking off for the day in America. If that was an assumption that fans in Manchester didn’t care for viral announcements on social media, then they certainly don’t care that the 29-year-old might have played his final game for the club.
In 2016 United confirmed the signing with the soon-to-be-trending #Pogback, now all fans want to see is #Poggone. There have been 226 appearances for United during Pogba’s second coming, but the lows considerably outweigh the highs. There were sporadic spells when the World Cup winner hinted that he might begin to produce that world-class form regularly for United, but it was never sustained.
READ MORE: United all but confirm Pogba is leaving
Injuries would derail progress as often as form and by the end, he simply didn’t look like an £89million midfielder. That one of his most productive spells from him came on the left wing tells you everything about the impact he had in midfield, the position he was expected to dominate when he returned to the club from Juventus.
As an epitaph Pogba’s nine minutes at Anfield on Tuesday are probably a fitting way to go out. He was embarrassed by the intelligence and movement of Jordan Henderson for Liverpool’s first goal, felt an injury soon after and walked off the pitch unaided, well aware of the storm that was coming to his teammates.
The reaction of the away end, where applause was almost non-existent, said it all. Thanks for nothing.
In a way, Pogba’s signing sums up United’s muddled, starry-eyed transfer strategy in recent years. There was a marketing attraction to returning Pogba – one of the world’s most marketable players – to Old Trafford, the Disneyland of football, as Ed Woodward might have it.
But on the pitch it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Pogba was a brilliant player in a brilliant team for Juventus and France, he wasn’t the leader of those sides though, the player raising standards and dragging teammates up with him.
He struggled at United because they expected him to fulfill that role, when it was really Bruno Fernandes who did so in January 2020. Pogba was also signed without a clear plan to use him. He thrived in three-man midfield systems before coming back to United but was rarely given the platform here that he got in Turin and still gets with France.
There is also a strong argument that the slower pace of Serie A and international football suits Pogba’s game. He likes to take a touch or two before picking a pass, something often denied him in the speed and physicality of the Premier League.
He was magnificent in the European Championship last summer because he would get time on the ball to nudge it forward while he waited for the pass to appear. In the Premier League, that approach has led to the accusations of being too casual when in reality he’s struggled to adapt his game.
Both club and player deserve criticism for a union that has seemed destined for failure for at least four years. When Pogba walks out for free for the second this summer he should act as a warning to a recruitment department being overhauled.
Football director John Murtough is the man tasked with leading recruitment now, with Erik ten Hag given the power of veto on potential targets. Between them they need to avoid mistakes like Pogba, expensive players ill-equipped to fit into a style and system United want to play.
The appointment of Ten Hag is a fresh start this summer and the departure of Pogba should signal a change in transfer strategy as well. He’s been an expensive mistake, but one that should never be repeated.
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