Manchester United superstar Paul Pogba served as a key figure during France’s run to World Cup glory in Russia. The former most expensive player in the world was a regular fixture in Didier Deschamps’ star-laden side that eventually got past Croatia by a 4-2 margin in the tournament final in Moscow. Pogba bagged the third goal in the match, which ultimately proved to be the winner.
While Pogba thrived with France, his form since making the much-publicized move back to England a couple of summers ago has waxed and waned. He has occasionally given the Red Devils a glimpse of why they purchased him for a then-world record fee, but more often than not the player has looked out of sorts during his second tenure with the club.
United will not be able to take the next step toward Premier League contention if Pogba doesn’t reach his potential with the team. You won’t become a profitable football bettor without studying the odds beforehand and making strategic tweaks. Similarly, Mourinho will not be able to get United to where they want to go unless he analyzes his side’s weaknesses and makes some changes.
Despite having an endless supply of attacking talent at his disposal, United boss Jose Mourinho has remained steadfast in insisting his side play a conservative, defensive style. Rather than making the most of his expensive playmakers, Mourinho instructs his players to be careful in defense without getting too stretched out going forward.
Pogba, a central midfielder by trade, is given the chance to roam more freely under Deschamps than he is under Mourinho. Given his speed and skill with the ball at his feet, that sort of style suits him better than having him sit in and defend.
When asked about Pogba’s performance at the World Cup, Mourinho recently said that the tournament format is the reason for his uptick in play. The Portuguese manager told the press, “I think the World Cup is the perfect habitat for a player like him to give [their] best.
“Why? Because it’s closed for a month, where he can only think about football. Where he’s with his team on the training camp, completely isolated from the external world, where they focus just on football, where the dimensions of the game can only motivate.”
He added, “During a season, you can have a big match then a smaller match, then one even smaller, then you can lose your focus, you can lose your concentration, then comes a big match again.”
“In the World Cup, the direction of the emotion, of the responsibility, of the big decisions is always growing up.”
Pogba was caught on film giving his team a pep talk during halftime of the World Cup Final, and his teammate, Adil Rami, said that he became a leader over the course of the tournament. That has to be music to Mourinho’s ears considering Pogba has largely taken a backseat to more veteran players in terms of leadership at Old Trafford.
Mourinho also said that the added responsibility that comes with playing for one’s country also has a way of further motivating players to perform at their highest level. This idea essentially comes down to the famous, “Sure, but can he do it on a rainy Tuesday in Stoke?” question. Nobody doubts Pogba’s overall abilities, but the most important thing for him at this stage of his career will be to try and be great on a nightly basis.
While Mourinho can say all he wants about how he thinks the format of the World Cup is the reason Pogba played well, the manager would do well to actually try and put the player in better positions to succeed with the club. Rather than insisting on playing him as a defensive midfielder, putting Pogba further up the pitch may well be the formula that unlocks his potential with United.
Whatever the case, the Red Devils won’t be able to keep up with Manchester City without some sort of change. The team has been quiet thus far during the summer transfer window, and any major splash looks unlikely, at this point. With the majority of last season’s second-place squad set to return, tactical adjustments must be made. Continuing to beat the same drum while expecting a different sound isn’t a strategy that will allow Mourinho to reach his ultimate goals at Manchester United.
Taking a different approach with Pogba would be a start.