Maybe I misunderstood the enigma that is Paul Pogba

By Donald Oliver July 09, 2020
Manchester United's Paul Pogba, centre, celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's third goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Thursday, July 9, 2020. Manchester United's Paul Pogba, centre, celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's third goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Thursday, July 9, 2020. AP Photo/Shaun Botterill

Last summer Paul Pogba gave an interview which shocked me as a Manchester United fan.

The fact that he wanted to leave didn’t come as a massive surprise, however, the fact he expressed it, was for me the ultimate show of disrespect to a club which I’ve been supporting since the Trinidadian striker Dwight Yorke joined in 1998.

Pogba, in Tokyo for a promotion, said "After this season and everything that happened this season, with my season being my best season as well ... I think for me it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else. I am thinking of this: to have a new challenge somewhere else."

What?! Where is the loyalty!?

As I said, he wanting a departure wasn’t shocking. His demeanour under the dour Jose Mourinho who dropped him like an unwanted case of the “virus” wasn’t healthy and it made the situation at Manchester United untenable. In fact, if Mourinho had been kept on as manager, the Frenchman would have likely returned to Juventus or gone to Real Madrid.

In September of 2018, Pogba went in front of reporters and openly called out the playing style under Mourinho after a 1-1 draw with Wolves.

“We should play much better against Wolves,” he said, “When we are at home we should attack, attack, attack. That’s Old Trafford. We are here to attack. I think teams are scared when they see Man United attacking and attacking. That was our mistake today. We’ve had three games at home and we’ve got only four points. It’s not enough.”

Three months later, Mourinho was sacked and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over as interim manager. And in his first 16 games, the Norwegian won 13 of them, before ending the season with 2 wins from 11 games. And it was during that summer break when Pogba made his comments in Tokyo. So when he said it was his best season at Manchester United, he was right. He led the club in goals, assists, completed passes, chances created, successful dribbles, key passes and shots on target.

Pogba was essentially a one-man show and he was tired.

As a fan, we expect players to show the same level of loyalty as we do. I was similarly disturbed when Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to leave for Real Madrid, when Roy Keane threatened to quit the club and when Wayne Rooney wanted to go… twice… thrice? I lost count.

However, all of them, superstars, were afforded the tools to be successful and they were! All three players hoisted both the Premier League and Champions League trophies. All three of them were part of great teams. All three of them were part of a structure envied by many teams.

So this is why criticism of Pogba who wanted to leave an ordinary team is unfounded. Football is the ultimate team sport. No matter how good an individual is, the team is only as good as the sum of its parts and the system in which they play. And Pogba, a player filled with ambition, missed what he had with Juventus, where he was one of the main men, and not the only man.

So when Bruno Fernandes arrived during the winter transfer window this season, Pogba raced to meet his new best friend and went out of his way to help him find somewhere to live. If Manchester United was a rehab centre, Fernandes was the drug Pogba wanted… such was his eagerness to help the Portuguese maestro settle. No relapse was to be expected here, as this was what Pogba needed.

And in an interview today with MUTV, Pogba gushed over his teammates, especially those in the attacking third.

“From behind I just enjoy it. I’m enjoying just watching Bruno, Rashford, Martial and Mason, who all played the last game, and seeing them score goals. You just keep applauding, it’s beautiful… they make me enjoy football every time!” he beamed.

“You can tell that the team is improving a lot,” he continued, “We play more as a team than we did before, we enjoy it, even more, we defend together, we attack together, and this team is stronger as well. The players who are on the bench or who don’t play every time, when they come on they help the team so the mentality is good and is right. All this together has put us where we are today.”

It’s clear that Pogba is driven by ambition which has to be reciprocated by the club. So bring on a champions league placing, a new contract for the Frenchman, Jadon Sancho and let the good times roll again at Manchester United.

Donald Oliver is a football and cricket commentator and a senior producer at SportsMax. Learn more about him at www.thedonaldoliver.com or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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