It's time for Paul Pogba to put down his Manchester United burden
Background image: Karina Setiawan
Paul Pogba craves attention. Being the golden boy standing in the spotlight, the showboat who thrills fans with his swagger is all he desires. Despite putting up the best attacking numbers the club has seen in several seasons, he's become public enemy number one at Manchester United. After a fitting end to a shambolic season, losing 2-0 to Cardiff City, the Frenchman faced harsh criticism from the Stretford End.
Say what you like about the 26-year-old, and certain fans certainly did, he kept his cool. That said, it's difficult to imagine the abuse as anything other than the final nail in his United coffin. When you score 16 goals and 11 assists over 4,012 minutes, involving yourself in a goal every 148 minutes, from midfield, and the supporters call you lazy, undedicated and selfish, it's time to move on.
Critics claim he had two excellent months but disappeared for the rest of the season. A quick glance at his game log on Transfermarkt reveals he never went more than three Premier League games without making the scoresheet until the final five games when the entire squad vanished. He scored a goal and assist in the three FA Cup matches he played. The only competition in which he failed to shine was the Champions League where his two goals and one assist all came in the first group match against Young Boys.
He flashed promise that he could be the world's best midfielder. At other times, he tried to do it all himself. When the season derailed in April and May, he appeared to lose his will along with the rest of the squad, although he might have had two more goals to his name save for the crossbar in the Huddersfield match.
Whatever his attitude, United’s number six incurred the wrath of supporters and critics alike as the losses mounted. Anthony Martial's supporters were blindsided by his regression. English stars Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford remain virtually immune to criticism. Alexis Sanchez wasn't in the lineup enough for his ineffectiveness to draw the same level of fire.
Pogba became the scapegoat. He’s made mistakes that would frustrate anyone. Failing to pick up his man in set-pieces or track back when possession is lost, taking on defenders when one touch and a pass are the best options. He's not Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. United fans just expect him to be.
To find happiness again, he must move. The 26-year-old’s love for the Red Devils is unbridled, but he’ll always be held back by the burden of being at the heart Solskjaer’s rebuild. Under Zinedine Zidane, he can express himself consistently. Real Madrid are undergoing an overhaul, too, but one with a greater guarantee for success.
He'll find critics at the Santiago Bernabeu. Madridistas feel every bit as entitled as Red Devils faithful and then some. Ask Gareth Bale. Still, the club is built for a player with his flash and style. The Frenchman won’t be asked to do anything other than play to his strengths.
Zidane will instil the discipline Jose Mourinho couldn't and Solskjaer apparently won't. Ole’s never criticised Pogba. Sometimes, honesty is the best policy.
Pogba’s potential departure represents a huge loss for Manchester United but the club survived several departures, from David Beckham to Jaap Stam to Roy Keane. He’s easily United's most talented players but others await their chance to shine.
United can expect to profit from his sale, too, recovering the £94.5 million fee paid to Juventus with a sizable profit added. A price in the £120-130 million range should be anticipated. Solskjaer can use that money to fill out his roster.
The biggest stumbling block to Pogba's departure is Ed Woodward. The executive Vice-Chairman sees his number six as his crown jewel in marketing terms. The French superstar’s deals with Adidas or other lucrative brands make him a terrific commercial ploy. His merchandise sells like hotcakes. United’s stock goes up whenever he plays well. It goes down when he doesn't, however. It's time the club's top man began thinking about results on the pitch rather than in the shareholders' report.