At this point, we all but know Paul Pogba will be returning to Manchester United next season. Thanks to COVID-19, Real Madrid won’t be able to afford him, and while a return to Juventus was never actually realistic, their new wage cap has removed them from even being a bargaining ploy.
The reports in recent weeks were less about Pogba wanting to stay at Old Trafford and more about him being resigned to knowing Real Madrid weren’t coming for him. I’ve always said I didn’t think Pogba wanted to leave Old Trafford so much as he just wanted to go to Real Madrid, and as such, this didn’t really bother me because he’s always acted like a professional and consistently performed on the pitch.
Then I saw this tweet.
At first I thought this was a massive oversimplification. But then I thought about it some more and, when you go through the timeline of the 2018-19 season, suddenly it makes a lot more sense.
Starting from the beginning of last season, unlike other World Cup participants (Jamie Vardy, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Ashley Young) Pogba is ready to go from the start. He plays 84 minutes in United’s season opener, and when he leaves the match the shots are 8-7 in favor of Leicester City but the expected goals of those shots was 1.51-0.35 in favor of United. Over the last six minutes (plus stoppage time) once Pogba left, the Foxes outshot United 5-0 with an xG of 1.39-0. Quite the difference.
Pogba had a great game and was a massive presence in midfield, but after the game the sole focus was on his painfully slow run up when he took a penalty.
And that was the story of the beginning of Pogba’s season. It didn’t matter what he did on the pitch, there was always something else for the media to complain about. He’s running too slow, he’s doing this off the pitch, he’s not doing that. Anything.
With José Mourinho losing control of the team, he began to scapegoat Pogba, culminating in Mourinho reportedly calling the Frenchman a virus after a 2-2 draw with Southampton.