Pogba Shines sans Jose

“It was Jose,” read the text from my friend, an only recently suffering Man United fan.

I wanted to copy, paste, then print out his message. He’d been reluctant to blame Jose Mourinho for a less than stellar start to the 2018-19 season. For what’s it worth, the writing was on the wall this time last year.

My friend’s revelation took well into the sixth game after Mourinho was sacked for him to accept, without provocation, that Jose was at fault. (I’d been working with him on how to say the uncomfortable phrase).

‘Say it with me, “It was Jose. It. Was. Jose.”’

To say that I’m proud is an understatement.

But I digress from the topic at hand…Paul Pogba’s resurrection as an attack minded central midfielder, one who can take a game by the scruff of its neck and dictate terms, especially in the attacking third.

Playing in a role that’s more defensive is something that Pogba can do. Just look at France’s World Cup victory last summer. But that was for seven games and players make sacrifices for the national teams all the time, especially in a tournament as big as the World Cup.

At Manchester United, however, the season is 38 games long, add in several cup games and that number sometimes reaches closer to 60. A few games out of position here and there aren’t a problem, but you need your best players in their best positions for most of the season.

Under Jose, Pogba’s offensive prowess, his surging runs from the midfield into prime attacking real estate were stifled. He was to play a role clogging lanes, something more akin to a holding midfield player. It was almost as if Jose had the former Juve star slated to play in the Makalele role--named after former Real Madrid and Chelsea star Claude Makalele who helped Jose to a premier league title in his first ever season as manager at Chelsea.

For an example of a modern-day Makalele, look no further than N’Golo Kante. On rare occasions, he ventures forward to exploit space in his teams attacking third. While he certainly may have better vision than Makalele (although that’s debatable), Kante’s main objective each game is slowing the other team’s attack and then cooly distributing to one of his other midfield partners. He doesn’t dribble, he doesn’t make incisive passes (often), he doesn’t take more than two or three touches.

That’s not the Paul Pogba any soccer fan has come to appreciate. He’s a taller Paul Scholes, a nicer Roy Keane, and definitely not a Nicky Butt or David Beckham (who sometimes deputized as a center mid for Sir Alex Ferguson). Rather, he’s more of a Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard hybrid with more speed and physicality. He can shoot from distance, pick apart defenses with incisive passes from any distance, beat defenders 1v1, and finish from anywhere inside 20 yards with any surface.

If the last five Premier League games under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are any indication, Paul Pogba has finally lived up to expectations after three seasons at Old Trafford. In 14 appearances under Jose, Pogba only netted once, while this recent run of games has that tally at 4 with 4 assists. The bottom line is, Pogba is happy and excited to be in the squad.

Maybe this is the honeymoon phase though. What will happen during a spell of bad results, it may all come crashing down.

I doubt it.

Pogba unleashed should scare the rest of the league and embolden his teammates. As a Liverpool fan, I’m not excited to see a resurgent Manchester United led by Pogba ready to play spoiler. But a pure soccer enthusiast, I don’t mind it a single bit.