Why Paul Pogba deserves another #Pogback | Football News - Hindustan Times

Why Paul Pogba deserves another #Pogback

Mar 02, 2024 10:21 PM IST

The four-year ban for failing a dope test meant he went from anonymity to ignominy as swiftly as he would slip from inspirational to insipid on the pitch.

After missing the World Cup due to a knee injury amid news of a kidnapping, Paul Pogba had slipped off football’s relentless news cycle. Evidently, 52 minutes on the pitch in 2023-24 wasn’t enough even for a player who could generate 635,000 Instagram interactions with #Pogback when he returned to Manchester United in 2016 – the number for Kevin de Bruyne’s joining Manchester City was 56,000.

(FILES) France's midfielder Paul Pogba(AFP)
(FILES) France's midfielder Paul Pogba(AFP)

And then came the hammer blow of a four-year ban which Pogba has said he would appeal. Immediately social media, where once Pogba would make news with a tweet or a trim if not a touch, exploded with clippings that encapsulated the charisma, confidence, close control and chutzpah of a man who was born on the Ides of March in the year Harry Kane was.

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The circumstances of his failing a dope test is not known yet but given that it came in a game he didn’t play and before two cameos in Serie A makes it seem all very, well, Pogba-like: a riddle hard to decipher. He has gone from anonymity to ignominy as swiftly as he would slip from inspirational to insipid on the pitch. Like in the Euro 2020 last-16 against Switzerland after scoring a fantastic goal that had put France 3-1 ahead.

Riled by Pep Guardiola, who had dragged him into his fight with hotshot agent Mino Raiola, Pogba produced a masterclass that turned a 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 win against City in 2018. Months later, he shone against Leicester City but went missing against Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton.

A poll by France Football has 69% saying Pogba should not be an automatic starter one year before the 2018 World Cup, a tournament he ended being as much, if not more, a darling of the country as Kylian Mbappe. When Emmanuel Macron hosted the world champions at Elysee Palace, Pogba addressed the huge gathering and looked as at ease as the France president.

A true leader, Hugo Lloris had said of Pogba after he inspired France to a tournament-defining win against Argentina in the pre-quarter final.

Unless he wants to, it won’t be the end of Pogba even if he were to serve out the full length of the ban. He will be 34 in September 2027. Pepe is 41 now, Lionel Messi is 36, Cristiano Ronaldo, Sunil Chhetri and Thiago Silva are 39 and Luka Modric 38. But given the toll knee and hamstring injuries have taken and how little he has played (161 minutes in 2022-23), the odds now could be low on a comeback after four years.

Especially after a career as glittering as his. Marked out as a special talent from when he helped Manchester United win the 2011 FA Youth Cup, Pogba has as many World Cups as Messi, a Nations League, four Scudetti, two Italian Cups and a Europa League. One year before emerging the best young player in the 2014 World Cup, Pogba had led France to the world under-20 title.

At 21, he had won more league titles than Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini had at that age. By the

time he was 23, Pogba had won seven trophies, scored 51 goals and played 42 times for France. Frank Lampard had played twice for England, scored 39 goals and won nothing when he was 23.

“He has everything it takes,” France coach Didier Deschamps, no flake as a midfielder in his time,

said of Pogba. Pavel Nedved was sure in 2013 that Pogba could win the Ballon d’Or. About his successor in midfield for France, Patrick Vieira had said Pogba was technically superior and attacked better.

While others walked, Pogba would strut. Physically imposing, his remarkable close control helped him get out of tight situations and he can shoot with both feet. When in the mood, Pogba’s football could be as languid as David Gower’s batting.

Conversely, that is also why the feeling that Pogba, the first player at Manchester United to win a World Cup after 1966, has more to offer lingers. Yes, Pogba lived life king size – his house in Manchester had a projector room and a five-a-side pitch. Yes, he worked the social media but wasn’t it because a top Manchester United official had, after his

return, said that engagement is not a part of what we do, it is everything we do? So, why blame him for basking in the buzz that shaving initials into his hairstyle once caused.

And before he is condemned as a footballer who wasn’t serious after Manchester United’s £90m payment made him the world’s most expensive player then (as per reports, he is now being paid €2000 per month at Juventus, the minimum wage), it needs to be remembered that Pogba had his own physio and dietician at a time it wasn’t a normal thing for elite footballers.

Pogba may not fit into the demands of today’s game where you are either an advanced midfielder or someone who can hold the ball and be defensively disciplined. But it would be a pity if the world has seen the last of him.

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    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata and has been a sport journalist for over three decades. He writes mainly on football.

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