Manchester United: Paul Pogba still has to prove himself on the European stage
Despite his clear talent, Pogba has to put in some performances in the Champions League to convince of his greatness.
In taking up the topic of Paul Pogba, any writer must approach the task with a sense of trepidation.
As is so often the case in the discourse that attends the world of football, the discussion of the various merits or demerits of Manchester United’s mercurial midfielder has a tendency to diverge sharply into those who are for and those who are against.
Of course, it is difficult to argue that Pogba is not a talented footballer – you only have to watch the ease with which he can turn players before galloping forward with attacking intent.
However, there remains a sense in which the Frenchman’s career so far has been something of a disappointment.
At one time the most expensive player in the world, Pogba may have had performances that justified his price tag. Yet the feeling remains that, during his time at Manchester United, the midfielder has not delivered quite what was promised.
Juventus come knocking
Paul Pogba made a name for himself on the pitches of Serie A, having been sold to Juventus by the club that he now represents.
For some people, this fact constitutes the most egregious example of Sir Alex Ferguson’s failure to recognise talent. For others, it merely confirms their opinion that Pogba is not quite of the level that a club like Manchester United require.
At the Allianz Stadium, Pogba did impress. Winning four Scudettos in his four seasons at the club, he was also a member of the team that Max Allegri took to the Champions League final in 2014/15.
A lot is made of Pogba’s performances in that edition of the Champions League and yet there remains a sense in which the French international’s European record lacks anything like the sort of stand-out display that you might expect of a player of his calibre.
Champions League triumph?
Paul Pogba was involved in four Champions League campaigns with Juventus. Of these, one of them ended in ignominy with I Bianconeri dropping out in the group stages to a group that included FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray, as well as Real Madrid.
During the 2014/15 Champions League, the season that saw Juventus eventually lose to Barcelona, Pogba appeared 10 times for the club. Of these games, Juventus won five, lost three and drew two. Across these 10 games, Pogba scored one and assisted three.
Present for the Round of 16 fixture where Juventus eased past Borussia Dortmund, Pogba was then injured for the quarterfinal fixtures against Monaco and the first leg of the semifinal fixture against Real Madrid.
Although he did return to help his side run out a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, the Frenchman could not help Juventus to victory against Barcelona when the final rolled around.
Whilst Pogba was clearly an integral part of the Juventus team that got to the Champions League final, then, there is still a sense that, even in his best campaign on the European stage, he wasn’t putting in the sorts of game-changing performances that people might expect for a player who would go on to become the most expensive in the world.
A continuing record
This sense of disappointment is borne out across his various appearances in European competition.
In the Champions League in 2012/13, Pogba made eight appearances without scoring or assisting. The following season, the season where Juventus dropped out in the group stages, he picked up three assists.
The season after the stand-out season in 2014/15, Pogba played eight times, scoring once and setting up two goals for his teammates.
Even in the Europa League the following year, a trophy which Manchester United went on to win, the midfielder only picked up three goals and one assist in fifteen games.
Of course, to limit a player’s performances to goals and assists is hardly instructive. However, across five seasons with a not-insignificant sample size, it is hard to make a case that Pogba has proved himself on the European stage.
The future is now
The on-going spat between Pogba and his manager Jose Mourinho is rumbling on.
Having been dropped on a number of occasions, including for Manchester United’s Round of 16 match against Sevilla on Wednesday, an early injury to Ander Herrera in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium gave Pogba the chance to make redemption.
In the event, despite turning players in the Sevilla midfield at least a couple of times, the Manchester United midfielder could not influence the game in the end.
His five successful dribbles and one key pass were bolstered by one tackle won and one interception made in the 74 minutes he had on the pitch.
But there is no sense in which Sevilla represent the elite in European competition. Only winning three of their last ten La Liga matches, Los Rojiblancos were knocked out in the Round of 16 of the Champions League by Leicester City last season and have never won a last-16 tie in the history of the competition.
At 24 years old, Pogba still has time on his hands to turn things around and become a match winner on the European stage. But unless he starts doing so soon, then his legacy as a footballing great could be in question.
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