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.


No Wayne, No Gain

It was the fall of 2002 and I was entering my third year of college. Unsurprisingly, at just 20 years old, I was far out of my depth. Just knowledgable about the subjects I was taking to mask my true ignorance about life. 

But on a grainy feed in my off-campus shit hole of a house I shared with several friends, I had the luxury of watching, most likely on replay and several days late, Wayne Rooney score his first Premier League goal against Arsenal. I knew then he was destined for greatness.

'What player, just a few games into his first full season in the Premier League, has the balls to hit a shot like that against a team that has a 30 game unbeaten streak,' I thought to myself. If I had said it out loud, none of my roommates would have understood. None of them grasped the madness of football. 

Rooney was on the brink of 17 years old, earning a mere £80 per week. He'd not been on the field long enough for anyone to actually think he would make an impact. But with less than 30 seconds to go, the new boy wonder controlled a speculative long ball, took a few touches toward goal, and as the Arsenal defenders decided to back off rather than close down he launched a curling shot from well outside the box. Just like Ronaldinho a few months earlier in Shizuoka Stadium, he surprised David Seaman, the England and Arsenal Goalkeeper, by tucking the ball into the upper left hand corner of the goal. 

To be sure, if Rooney's career had ended up a dud, we'd have all called it speculative. But 16 years later, looking back on one of the most storied careers for any English footballer, it was an introduction to precisely what we've come to expect. 

Yesterday, the former England captain signed with DC United, currently the worst team in Major League Soccer. For those who have watched Rooney's career, the decision to make the brand new Audi Field his new home certainly raises eyebrows.  But for the fans of the Black and Red (full disclosure, I'm a season ticket holder), his addition to a squad that's floundering not just in the offensive third, but also in the standings signifies a new hope and a chance to recapture the greatness that's been missing for more than a decade. 

Wazza's workmanlike style matched with the sort of cheeky initiative that drives defenders mad fits perfectly with the system DCU coach Ben Olsen has in mind. Given a backloaded season by MLS, so that Audi Field could host the majority of their home games this season, DCU needs all the breaks possible to reach the playoffs. Rooney just may be exactly what they need to slide into the post season. 

Injuries have plagued Rooney of late, however. And the MLS, despite the idea that it's a retirement league, isn't a push over. It will be physically grueling for the new signing. 

Nonetheless, he's already engendered himself to the city after making Wunder Garten, a beer garden in NOMA, one of his first stops in the city after arriving yesterday afternoon. 

Those of us who are DCU fans will certainly be looking forward to his efforts on the field. Maybe he'll be the first to score 15 goals since Dewayne DeRosario in 2011. Regardless, the excitement is building, hopefully he won't disappoint.