Frank Lampard on Paul Pogba in 2018
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Paul Pogba was regarded as one of the most important players for the majority of his six-year spell at Manchester United. So for the Frenchman to slip towards the exit door, without so much of a peep after six years in Manchester, invites a somewhat mixed evaluation on his time at Old Trafford.
There were several times where Pogba’s abilities helped Man United climb out of a sticky situation, but not nearly as often as the fans would have liked after his £89million record transfer. On this day two years ago, United were 1-0 down against Tottenham and lacking the firepower or creativity to break down a stubborn Tottenham backline.
Pogba would have been desperate to get on the pitch after starting on the bench, having recovered from an ankle problem that kept him out for around 10 months in total. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided throw on the World Cup winner two minutes after the hour-mark, his first appearance since Boxing Day.
And that hunger was prominent as he set about trying to get United back into the game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium following Steven Bergwijn’s early strike.
Much was made about how he would link up with Bruno Fernandes for the first time, and the first glimpse of the pair together would have sparked some excitement in the away support as they showcased their talents in the midfield, spraying diagonal passes left and right.
Almost like a pendulum, the momentum swung in United’s favour as they began to pin back Spurs, and on 80 minutes, Pogba’s chance to make an impact arrived. He bamboozled Eric Dier with a crafty piece of footwork and turned on a sixpence, darting into the penalty area before inviting the challenge from Dier. The referee pointed to the spot and Bruno Fernandes slotted home to earn the Red Devils a 1-1 draw.
Solskjaer sung his praises after the game, having witnessed Pogba put him as good a display as he had in the red shirt: “Of course Paul’s contribution is there to be seen,” he said. “He played the pass of the day when he played Marcus through and he had the skill of the day when he was fouled for the penalty. Paul is one of the best players in the world and it’s great to have him back.
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But if that cameo was supposed to be a springboard for Pogba to rediscover his best levels, it was short-lived after an ordinary campaign in 2020-21 with three goals and five assists in only 26 league appearances. He did begin last season with a bang, registering seven assists in his first four matches.
However, a foolish red card against Liverpool 15 minutes after coming off the bench in the heavy 5-0 defeat to Liverpool disrupted his momentum. A hamstring injury picked up in training kept him out for a further three months and only towards the end of the season — under interim boss Ralf Rangnick — did he return. But that seismic boost felt when he came back from injury was no longer felt.
Even with United in dire straights and finishing a lowly sixth last season, losing the 29-year-old on a free transfer barely felt significant as it would have done two years ago. He was no longer relied upon to bring the magic for United after spending so long on the sidelines. And after blasting the club on his way out of the Old Trafford exit door, perhaps Pogba will have some regrets with how he failed to leave a lasting legacy at the club.
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