Image has become everything for some footballers. Weekly haircuts, official emojis and slickly-choreographed celebrations are the meal behind many of Paul Pogba’s headlines, tying together his carefully manicured brand.
As a player who has failed to live up to the hype this season, Pogba is in danger of becoming defined as a failed promise. But is this because he’s failed to perform or because the bar has been set unrealistically high for the midfielder?
Under the guidance of Mino Raiola, the French midfielder is now in danger of being renowned for style over substance. Having just turned 25 years old, Pogba should have the best years of his career still ahead of him but perhaps a new approach is needed to reach his ambitions.
Amid growing speculation that a summer move could be sought to help him become the centrepiece of a team, he should consider a different move to serve his interests far better in the long-term.
Within the changes in modern football, agents have increasingly become demonised as parasites feeding off the beautifully lucrative game.
According to new figures released by the FA, Mr. 10% has become Mr. 12.6% with agent fees steadily rising in recent years. Sitting near the top of this new order is a small group of “super-agents” of which Mino Raiola is one.
Having a strong agent is certainly a good move financially in the current set-up across football, however, Raiola and his ilk seem intent on only serving their own best interests.
Having reportedly earned himself €25 million (£21.25 million) from Pogba’s then-record-breaking move to Manchester United in August 2016, it’s been estimated that Raiola earned as much as £41 million in total from Pogba’s move away from Turin.
With such sums of money on offer, it would be entirely within Raiola’s interests for Pogba to land a new move this summer, a transfer window likely to be further inflated by the shadow of the World Cup.
For Pogba the footballer, consistent performances are what’s now needed to substantiate the image being fed to the media.
Bigger than the club
It’s now 15 years since David Beckham left Manchester for Madrid under a cloud of tension with Sir Alex Ferguson. While Beckham’s ego was believed to be an underlying reason for his departure, his celebrity-lifestyle was certainly key to this.
Ferguson wrote in his autobiography that he "felt uncomfortable with the celebrity aspect of his life" and believed that Beckham was diverting too much of his attention away from the game. While football has generally lurched closer to the temptations and trappings of fame during recent years, Pogba is at an extreme point of this.
It’s notable that today’s star players across the footballing world are much closer to the off-field behaviour of Paul Scholes than Beckham. Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah, Lionel Messi, even Cristiano Ronaldo remain fully focused on improving their game above all else.
If Pogba wants to hit a consistent level of play which will see him compared favourably with any of these players in the future, his priorities may need to be re-defined.
How to make friends and influence people
Much of the build-up to Saturday’s Manchester derby became centred around the revelation that Manchester City were offered a chance to sign Pogba last January.
Following two second-half goals which put his team back on track to beat their rivals, the French midfielder managed to step away from the game with a set of headlines focusing back on his footballing exploits.
It’s easy to believe that Raiola acted on his own impulses in contacting Manchester City regarding the availability of both Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Soon after the arrival of Alexis Sánchez at Old Trafford, Raiola is believed to have tried and failed to negotiate more lucrative contracts for his players.
Repeated rumours of a potential move for Pogba this summer are consistent with Raiola’s hardball negotiating strategy.
While this has proven effective financially, it’s an approach which opens up questions of loyalty within the clubs fanbase, something Wayne Rooney found terminally detrimental to his relationship with Manchester United fans during the summer of 2013.
Fight or flight of the Pogba
Pogba is very much a player who divides common opinion.
Treading the fine line between confidence and arrogance, he undoubtedly has the skill to be regarded as a top player – but is he too much of a player to actually make it?
Whatever your view on his overall contribution to his team against Manchester City last weekend, he delivered a defining contribution to the scoreline which is ultimately how players are judged.
The recent tensions reported to lie between player and manager in the Old Trafford dressing room revolve around a clash of personalities.
When all is said and done, Mourinho is ultimately the controlling voice behind the scenes at United and this is something Pogba will need to accept to make his time at the club a success.
At only one year younger than De Bruyne, his time to shine on the pitch is fast approaching. He has the choice of either knuckling down at Manchester United under Mourinho’s tutelage or running from this problem to build again in establishing his credentials.
If he chooses the latter, a move away from the agent of Mario Balotelli could be hugely beneficial.
Would Pogba be better off moving away from Manchester United? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.