Paul Pogba has become one of the world’s top midfield players and has many admirers none less so than Thierry Henry who said he can go on to become one of the best midfielders in history. Such high praise for Pogba from a player of Henry’s stature tells us all how good a player Pogba could become for Man Utd over the next 5-10 years. But right now, he looks a shadow of the player that had lit up Serie A over the past 4 seasons. One must consider how this has happened.
Yes he is adjusting to a new league and the pressure of being the world’s most expensive player but there is an underlying problem which needs to be resolved if he is ever to reach his potential at Man Utd. Simply put Man Utd does not have players of sufficient quality at their disposal in central midfield to enable Pogba to thrive. At Juventus he played in midfield alongside top players like Andrea Pirlo, Sami Khedira, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio.
Pirlo used his unbelievable passing range as a way of dictating the tempo and helping Juventus maintain control of matches.
Khedira is a world-class anchorman in midfield who broke up opposition attacks effectively and played simple balls forward to the creative players like Pogba.
Vidal and Marchisio are high intensity, energetic midfielders who ran all over the pitch to hassle opponents and win the ball back.
The attributes of these players allowed Pogba to excel. He did not need to concern himself with controlling the game as Pirlo did that and he did not have many defensive responsibilities as Khedira, Marchisio and Vidal did that. This allowed Pogba to focus on creating and scoring goals, using his skill and power to dribble past opponents and try audacious long-range shots.
Whereas at Man Utd, Jose Mourinho has him played alongside Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney in Man Utd’s league games, both of whom are incapable of controlling a game like Pirlo, lack the defensive nous of Khedira and the energy of Vidal and Marchisio. Pogba’s performances have suffered as a result.
Two of Man Utd’s other midfield options Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin were brought in alongside Pogba for the Europe League tie against Feyenoord. Man Utd would have hoped that Herrera could play like Pirlo and Schneiderlin like Khedira to bring the best out in Pogba. But those two players are nowhere near as good so Pogba struggled and Man Utd slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Feyenoord.
Now pundits and ex-Man Utd players like Paul Scholes are calling for Michael Carrick or Bastian Schweinsteiger to play alongside Pogba in the heart of the Man Utd midfield. Both players are wonderful passers of the ball who can control a game but relying on injury prone 35 and 32-year-olds respectively to do this regularly in the physically demanding and high-intensity English Premier League is unrealistic and smacks of desperation.
So as it stands, with Man Utd’s current midfield options, Pogba is unfortunately the right man at the wrong time.