The post-Sir Alex Ferguson era has been one of upheaval and false dawns at Old Trafford, and this season is proving to be no different as an ever-changing Manchester United line-up continues to disappoint and surprise in equal measure under fan-favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Paul Pogba’s Return Can Be the Boost That Manchester United Need
One of the most significant figures at the club, whose fortunes have attracted a large proportion of pundit and fan focus, is World Cup winner Paul Pogba. The United Academy graduate, who left for Juventus in 2012, was brought back to the club in the summer of 2016 by Jose Mourinho, for an eye-opening fee £89.3 million, a world-record fee at the time.
A player with that kind of price label is going to be under pressure from the start, and it is fair to say that there has always been a section of the United fan base that has never taken to him. Pogba’s talent and versatility has made it hard to pin down his precise role. Is he best as a box-to-box midfielder, in the Patrick Vieira or Lothar Matthaus mode? Is he at his most effective as a purely attacking midfielder? Should he be deployed as a deep-lying playmaker.
From the start, it seemed that Mourinho wasn’t sure about how to get the best out of the phenomenally gifted Frenchman. But despite a slow start in his opening few games, Pogba went on to play a key role in the successful Europa League campaign of 2016/17, including scoring the opening goal in the final against Ajax, as well as helping United to finish sixth in the Premier League table.
His performances in the 2017/18 season were less consistent, and he mingled long periods of being relatively ineffective with bursts of match-winning form. He was regularly criticised by fans and pundits for a perceived lack of effort and for an apparent unwillingness to carry out defensive duties and was dropped in favour of Scott McTominay for a few games in 2018. But he also showed his world-class talent on several occasions, most notably in the Manchester derby when he led a stirring fightback from the Red Devils to beat Manchester City 3-2.
When he started the 2018/19 campaign well, thriving in the temporary captaincy role, it seemed that Pogba might have turned a corner. But by late September, events had taken an ugly turn as Pogba became caught up in the deteriorating relationship between the club and Mourinho, and there was again speculation that he might be on his way out of the club. That speculation faded when he put together a string of strong performances under new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but his form once again dipped at the end of the campaign, and injury has made him a peripheral figure this season.
So, where do Paul Pogba and United go from here? His situation is complicated. In the short term, Solskjaer will be desperate to have his world-class midfielder available. Consistent or not, Pogba is the most dangerous playmaker in the United squad, capable of winning the big games and with United locked in a struggle with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur for a top-four spot, the United boss needs all the help he can get. Their race for the fourth spot can determine the future for future purchases and stars wanting to stay – their current odds by UK football betting sites to finish top four are 7/1.
There has to be a strong possibility that Pogba will want to leave this summer. His contract runs out in the summer of 2021, which puts pressure on United to cash in this year or risk losing their biggest asset on a free transfer a year later. Pogba won’t have any shortage of options, with former club Juventus and Spanish giants Real Madrid both likely to be among the potential suitors. His agent, Mino Raiola, has also been extremely critical of the club while debate about Solskjaer’s own future is adding another layer of uncertainty to the situation.
But if he does decide to stay at United one factor that could persuade him is the arrival of Bruno Fernandes. The £47 million attacking midfielder from Sporting Lisbon has made a good impression in a short space of time, and his attacking instincts could take some of the pressure off Pogba who has often been the sole creative presence in midfield. Much will depend on how well Solskjaer is able to integrate the two players, but if he gets it right and United can snatch fourth place before the end of the season, Pogba may yet decide to stay at Old Trafford this summer.