Paul Pogba’s man-of-the-match performance for France against Germany in their maiden Euro 2020 outing was a clear example of how the 28-year-old can perform when used correctly.
France won the tie 1-0 but in truth it could have been a lot more. Pogba’s brilliant pass in the lead up to the first goal was bettered by another that led to what appeared to be a second before it was ruled out for offside.
Pogba played in the heart of a midfield with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante behind him, Adrien Rabiot providing an attacking spark and runs from deep and the blistering pace of Kylian Mbappe ahead of him.
‘It is not often that a pass turns out to be the moment of a match. But one executed by Paul Pogba 20 minutes into this heavyweight tussle was such a work of art which elevated the game so suddenly, so decisively, it could have been cast in bronze and hung from the rafters of the Louvre,’ said The Athletic’s Amy Lawrence.
‘This was Pogba with backup — benefitting from the security blanket of having an accomplice as smart and active as N’Golo Kante beside him, plus Adrien Rabiot, who was selected to offer another mode of support in the midfield heartland.’
‘This was Pogba relishing responsibility, holding off opponents as if they were irritants with a fancy trick and a burst, a player who feels both trusted and liberated by a coach who has for years backed him and encouraged him to be a leader.’
And it is this last point that is of particular concern to Manchester United fans. Was it just a coincidence that Pogba played so well for France? Was it, as Lawrence says, because the French coach Didier Deschamps knows how to ‘liberate’ him in a way United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (and José Mourinho before him) does not? Or is he simply more motivated when playing for his national side?
‘Lots of praise for Paul Pogba last night and rightly so. He was different class, but it goes to show how important it is for Man Utd to buy a proper DM this summer,’ said one Twitter user.
‘N’Golo Kanté alongside him in that France side is the perfect combination. They compliment each other so well.’
Lots of praise for Paul Pogba last night and rightly so. He was different class, but it goes to show how important it is for Man Utd to buy a proper DM this summer.
N'Golo Kanté alongside him in that France side is the perfect combination. They compliment each other so well. ???????? pic.twitter.com/jiniJdvQt0
— EUROs Tweet (@Football__Tweet) June 16, 2021
Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Christoph Kramer said ‘When I see Paul Pogba playing like that, I wonder what on earth he’s been doing at Manchester United all year. He made it look like child’s play. He was world class.’
Christoph Kramer on Paul Pogba last night:
"When I see Paul Pogba playing like that, I wonder what on earth he's been doing at Manchester United all year. He made it look like child's play. He was world class." pic.twitter.com/ihsuc2R1OS
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) June 16, 2021
However, The MEN’s Samuel Luckhurst thinks that the comparisons between club form and form for his country are overstated.
‘The Pogba “looks way more engaged and intense” in a France shirt narrative last night was inevitable but hackneyed,’ Luckhurst tweeted.
‘Had a good season with United that ended poorly because he was illogically moved back for the Europa League final. Form in 2021 has been impressive.’
The Pogba 'looks way more engaged and intense' in a France shirt narrative last night was inevitable but hackneyed. Had a good season with United that ended poorly because he was illogically moved back for the Europa League final. Form in 2021 has been impressive.
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) June 16, 2021
The fact that in the space of two days, Victor Lindelof put in a man-of-the-match performance for Sweden against Spain and Pogba did the same for France is inevitably going to raise questions about how players are employed at Old Trafford, about whether the coaching is good enough and about whether Solskjaer really is good enough as a manager.
As a cult hero at United and a seemingly likeable character to boot, Solskjaer perhaps is afforded more patience by fans and perhaps by those at the club than other managers may have received in his position.
The Red Devils did finish one place higher in 2020/21 than they did in 2019/20 and did improve their tally by eight points in the Premier League.
Yet they ended another season without a trophy, without knowing who their best goalkeeper is, with one of the worst defensive records for a top four side in recent memory (only Chelsea in 2019/20 fared worse in the last six seasons), with Pogba not having a set role, with Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles seemingly wasted signings and without having solved the basic conundrum of how to break down a low block.
Reports suggest that United are prioritising the signing of a right-winger, Jadon Sancho, this summer, along with a centre-back and a right-back.
Yet in one game each, Lindelof has shown that he can be a world class partner for Harry Maguire and Pogba has shown the role he should be given at United and that it depends on the acquisition of a world class defensive midfielder to sit behind him. That position – holding midfielder, and a complete overhaul of the defensive coaching team at United are far more important than the signing of a right winger.
However Pogba and Lindelof perform throughout the rest of the tournament, these facts seem to be glaringly obvious and yet, worryingly, the Manchester United management just do not seem able to see them.