Paul Pogba: Highs and lows of midfielder’s return to Manchester United
The World Cup winner has had a mixed time since rejoining the club.
Paul Pogba is at the centre of attention again after an apparent verbal altercation with Manchester United fans following their season-ending 2-0 defeat to Cardiff.
Despite being their top-scorer this season with 16 goals in all competitions, much of the blame for United’s poor campaign has fallen on Pogba’s shoulders and the Frenchman reacted to seemingly being heckled by a small number of supporters during the club’s lap of honour at Old Trafford.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at the highs and lows of Pogba’s second spell with the club.
Return to Old Trafford
Four years after leaving United for Juventus, Pogba moved back to Old Trafford in August 2016 for a then world record £89.3million fee. It was thought Pogba was the final piece in the puzzle that would help push United back into Premier League title contention. Jose Mourinho, United manager at the time, described Pogba as “one of the best players in the world”, adding the midfielder “will be a key part of the United team I want to build here for the future”.
It was not all plain sailing early on for Pogba but he ended his first season back at United with two trophies – with eye-catching performances in both finals. Zlatan Ibrahimovic took the plaudits in the 3-2 victory over Southampton at Wembley as United clinched EFL Cup glory but Pogba was singled out for praise by Mourinho. Pogba was then instrumental as United defeated Ajax 2-0 to go all the way in the Europa League, scoring an early goal – albeit from a strike that took a deflection – and being a towering presence in midfield.
Putting City to the sword
Tensions with Mourinho were beginning to leak into the public domain but Pogba came up trumps for his manager at the Etihad Stadium in March 2018, scoring twice to temporarily delay City’s coronation as Premier League champions. Pep Guardiola had hinted in the build-up to the fixture that City had been offered Pogba a couple of months earlier and the player showed why he is so highly coveted as his double was the catalyst that helped United overturn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win.
Resurgence under Solskjaer
The departure of Mourinho in December 2018 seemed to instantly rejuvenate Pogba, who scored nine goals in his next 12 appearances which dovetailed with an upturn in United’s fortunes under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. As well as scoring, his assist against Tottenham at Wembley in January – in which a perfectly-weighted cross field pass freed Marcus Rashford for the only strike of the match – earned rave reviews and led to a rethink over whether United could challenge for a place in the top-four.
Adjusting to the Mourinho way
The first signs of Pogba struggling to adapt to Mourinho’s system emerged in United’s 2-1 Premier League home defeat to rivals Manchester City in September 2016. TV pundit Jamie Carragher called Pogba’s performance “ill-disciplined”, saying he was “like a kid in the schoolyard, running where he wants and doing what he wants”.
Rift with Mourinho
While Pogba said Mourinho “trusted and defended me” in the 2016-17 season, their relationship looked to be becoming increasingly strained by the midway point of the following campaign. From a heated debate between the pair on the Wembley touchline during a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham in January 2018, they were said to be “barely on speaking terms” a couple of months later.
Mourinho suggested Pogba was unable to be distracted by external matters during the World Cup due to the short nature of the tournament. Despite returning late from the World Cup, Pogba started and captained United in their
opening match of the 2018-19 season – scoring in a 2-1 win against Leicester in August 2018. But he said after the game that “there are things I cannot say, otherwise I will get fined”. The following month, reports emerged before the Carabao Cup tie against Derby that Mourinho told Pogba in front of the squad he will never captain United again as he does not embody what the club is about. Pogba was rested for the Derby game and Mourinho said afterwards he had taken the vice-captaincy away from the midfielder.
Fallout with some fans
Pogba’s prolific performances gave way to more anonymous showings as United’s campaign came to a disappointing conclusion. A 2-0 defeat at home to relegated Cardiff on the final day of the season seemed to be the final straw for some United fans as they engaged in a heated confrontation with Pogba, who has been linked with a move to Real Madrid this summer.