Last summer, Paul Pogba was the centre of attention. After leading his country to the final of Euro 2016 at home, he became the most expensive player in the world as he moved back to Manchester United. The Frenchman has long been written about as a future winner of the Ballon D’Or and his move back to Old Trafford was expected to propel him to that level. In Serie A, he was a star, but there were doubts about the competitiveness of the league. The Premier League is the world’s most exciting and features six teams that have genuine title ambitions. He was joining a United team in transition and if he was able to lead them back to the top, it would cement his own reputation as one of the world’s best.
However, Pogba struggled to live up to his billing and many began to doubt the midfielder. The majority of the criticism does come from opposition supporters and it would be churlish to suggest that the Frenchman has been a failure, but more will be expected during his second season. During the 2016/17 campaign, he contributed five goals and four assists. Although he isn’t expected to be the main attacking force of the United team, they would have hoped for better numbers than that. For comparison, he scored eight goals and assisted 12 times during his final year with Juventus.
Many have debated the reason for his struggles and it would be too simple to suggest only one. There have been many factors at play and Pogba will have learned from his experience. To start with, Jose Mourinho didn’t have a system that was geared around the midfielder and he struggled to influence matches as a result. His role was one that he wasn’t completely comfortable with and it restricted the freedom that he was afforded on the pitch. As the season progressed, United moved to a 4-3-3 system that suited him more, but the right combination has yet to be found. The rumours regarding Nemanja Matic suggest that Mourinho realises that he needs to address that issue.
Another reason for his underwhelming season was the lack of form of his own team. United finished 6th and they never looked comfortable when playing teams outside of the top six, especially at Old Trafford. The Red Devils were predictable at times and many in the team looked towards Pogba to produce a moment of magic. As a new player in England, the midfielder was still adjusting to the division and too much pressure was put on him at an early stage to be a key man.
Could the next season be career-defining for Pogba?
At the age of 24, Pogba is at a crossroads. He is already an excellent player, but he hasn’t reached the world class level yet. Pogba has the physical and technical ability to become one of the best players in the world. The Ballon D’Or was mentioned earlier in this piece and there is no reason why the French international couldn’t win the award. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi won’t be around forever and Pogba is one of the most talented players of his generation.
Manchester United will be in the Champions League again and they are making positive strides in the transfer market that suggest they could be title contenders. Jose Mourinho will be keen to prove that he can still win major honours and the key to United being successful is Pogba. There are some that remain unconvinced, but those that saw Pogba at Juventus will know the talent that he possesses. If United can build a successful team and give the Frenchman a role that allows him to influence the game in the final third, he could be devastating. Those judging Pogba after only one season are doing so too soon. They could be made to eat their words during the next 12 months.