Given that Manchester United paid a world record sum for Paul Pogba when they bought him back from Juventus this summer, it shouldn’t be a gigantic surprise to see critics already out in force to suggest that the Frenchman hasn’t necessarily backed up his price tag as of yet. That £89 million was always going to be an albatross around Pogba’s neck if he didn’t hit the ground running, and so it’s proven. Pogba has provided plenty of reasons for optimism so far in the three games that he’s played for Jose Mourinho but he hasn’t wowed many fans, aside for the odd flash of brilliance or searing run from midfield.
Is that his fault? Not necessarily. The focus on the money side of things is predictably making people expect more from Pogba, and as the subject of the most expensive transfer in football’s history, that’s not unfair. People expect more from big buys, and the world class talent that comes with them. But United’s purchase of Pogba was equally a statement to the continent that they could meet Juventus’ inflated asking price and pay big money if they wanted a specific player. Sure, Mourinho wanted him, but United as a business also wanted a star, and they undoubtedly got that with Pogba.
It’s difficult to get too worried about his performances since so far, simply because his second stint in England is only three games old, and United’s season is only one game older than that. Jose Mourinho has his new team playing with more purpose, strength and character than they managed under Louis van Gaal over the previous two seasons, for sure, but he’s yet to settle on a formula or formation that is going to get the best out of the former United academy player.
Juventus were happy to build a team around Pogba to a certain extent, and he excelled at the Bianconeri last season in their double-winning side; things are different at Old Trafford, however. Wayne Rooney needs to be accommodated, meaning that instead of a 4-3-3, which would arguably give Pogba more licence to roam and less focus on defensive work, he lines up in a deeper role alongside Maroaune Fellaini in a 4-2-3-1, with Rooney as the number 10.
We saw on Saturday against Manchester City that Pogba can still carry the ball up field with great pace and danger, but he’s not yet able to press up the pitch as consistently high as he did in Italy, where he can arguably do more damage. Couple that with the fact that this is a new United team that he has joined that is still getting to grips with Mourinho’s needs and techniques, and it’s not difficult to see why Pogba hasn’t lit the Premier League on fire just yet.
Yet there should be no real cause for concern in that regard just yet. Just as United’s 1-2 defeat to Pep Guardiola’s side this weekend doesn’t mean that United should be panicking, neither does it mean that there’s reason to jump on Pogba’s back as soon as things don’t go to plan. The weight of that transfer fee will mean that people have increased expectations of what the Frenchman can do for this United side, but given time, and the player’s own quality and determination, he will surely make his mark on this season.