Paul Pogba is beginning to justify his lofty reputation. José Mourinho and Manchester United are the beneficiaries – Pogba’s improved form has coincided with United’s best run of the season.
Pogba endured an underwhelming start to the season at Old Trafford. The 23-year-old Frenchman was Mourinho’s marquee summer signing. His £89.3 million transfer fee from Juventus was a world record. The price tag gained extra attention, given the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson had released him as a free agent in 2012.
Pogba was therefore under immense pressure to perform. However, he struggled to show his best form initially. His first nine Premier League games brought just one goal and no assists.
In an interview with ESPN, teammate and fellow summer arrival, Zlatan Ibrahimović claimed that Pogba was trying too hard to justify his fee:
I think when Paul came, in his first period in United, let’s say the first month, I think he wanted to demonstrate too much that he was worth the transfer that happened instead of playing his game like he knows how to play.
When that started to cool down, he started to play like he knows how to play, and he makes it […] easier for himself, [he] doesn’t need to demonstrate because everyone knows who Paul is, what he has been doing at Juventus for the past three to four years, what he’s able to do, and now he’s playing more like Pogba.
He has nothing to demonstrate, he has nothing to show, he just needs to enjoy the game and help the team like he’s doing now. So now he’s playing like a mature player and you see the results.
The statistics suggest that Ibrahimović is right to say that Pogba is starting to settle into his role. He has three goals and three assists in the last nine Premier League matches.
His latest strike was a crucial late winner at home to Middlesbrough. Pogba’s 86th minute header rounded off a 2-1 comeback victory, United’s fifth league win in a row. Having slipped nine points adrift of Champions League qualification in early December, the Red Devils are just three points off a top four place halfway through the season.
Pogba has been a driving force behind their recent improvement with a string of powerful displays. Ominously for the rest of the league, his confidence is visibly growing, and he is beginning to control games. Against Boro, he made a game-high 71 passes in the opposition half.
Pleasingly for United manager, Mourinho, Pogba has clearly developed an understanding with other star players, particularly Ibrahimović — all three of Pogba’s Premier League assists have been for the 35 year-old Swede. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan also showing signs of his Borussia Dortmund form, United fans can expect plenty of excitement in 2017.
Amazing way to end the year, great 2017 everyone 🎉
— Paul Pogba (@paulpogba) December 31, 2016