Manchester United are facing a huge Christmas period as their short-term future is in the balance. Their Champions League elimination will have been met with disappointment, as they had control of the group following the first two matchdays. Prior to the match against RB Leipzig, Mino Raiola have an unhelpful interview about the future of Paul Pogba, which would have annoyed those at Old Trafford. The Frenchman was left out of the starting eleven on Tuesday, but he may have been due to start before the comments were made. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will know that he can’t blame the loss on this incident alone, but it certainly didn’t help.
The future of Pogba has been a cloud over the club for a number of years now. Raiola has regularly spoken in public about the midfielder’s desire to move on, but the club have yet to find a solution. The summer looked to be the time to move him on. Last season, he had a limited impact on the pitch, as Bruno Fernandes emerged as the new talisman of the team. The summer addition of Donny van der Beek pushed Pogba further to the periphery. If the pandemic hadn’t arrived when it did, a move away could have been found for the one-time World Cup winner.
However, no club came in for him and he was left to languish at Old Trafford. He has made only five starts in the Premier League, which underlines how Solskjaer feels about Pogba. There is no doubting his talent, but the current coaching team seem to be planning for the future without him. It speaks volumes that he was left on the bench on Tuesday night for the biggest match of Manchester United’s season to date.
Since the end of the 2018/19 season, it has felt like Pogba’s body has been in Manchester, but his mind is elsewhere. During that campaign, he was arguably the best player and his excellent form helped Solskjaer land the job on a permanent basis. He contributed 13 goals and nine assists, emerging as one of the best players in the final third of the pitch.
His form suffered last year, as he played only 1205 minutes in the Premier League, contributing a goal and three assists. Post lockdown, there were signs that he could still contribute. That said, the speculation off the pitch suggested that Pogba was still hoping for a move away from Old Trafford. At the time of his re-signing, he was lauded as the player to bring glory back to the club following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Instead, he has been regularly criticised by the media and emerged as the common scapegoat.
This season has been an underwhelming one to date, as he is averaging 1.17 shots and 0.39 key passes per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, Bruno Fernandes is averaging 3.39 shots and 3.95 key passes per ninety minutes. They really are chalk and cheese at this point, with the Frenchman offering very little in the final third. The expected numbers make for even worse reading, as Pogba averages 0.04 expected goals (xG) and 0.01 expected assists (xA) per ninety minutes.
To provide context within Pogba’s own record, he averaged 3.14 shots and 1.64 key passes per ninety minutes during his successful 2018/19 campaign. Further to this, he averaged 0.47 xG and 0.15 xA per ninety minutes. This shows what a motivated Paul Pogba can deliver in the Premier League. Since, he has been negatively impacted by injuries and lack of selection. The arrival of Fernandes has pushed him into a deeper role, where it is more difficult to impact matches.
Despite all of this, there is a clear lack of motivation on his part. There are small periods where he shows the player he can be. There was a cameo performance against Tottenham following the lockdown last season, in which he changed the game. It was his brilliant skill that won the penalty for the equalising goal. However, those occasions are few and far between.
The comments from Raiola haven’t been helpful this week, but the debate about the future of Pogba is now a tired one. Manchester United and Pogba both know that they need to part ways. The midfielder is no longer motivated to deliver match-winning performances, while the soap opera at Old Trafford means that it is unlikely that he ever will be again. With 18 months left on his contract, it is now time for a resolution to be found. Following the Champions League exit, the club should now seek this sooner, rather than later.