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Monday 18 December 2017

Pogba loves to show off but Matic is the one who runs the show

Paul Pogba trains ahead of the game in Switzerland.
Paul Pogba trains ahead of the game in Switzerland.

Paul Pogba is a modern day idol for many kids around the world but in purely football terms, I don't think he's a very good role model for young players at all.

The thought came to mind when I saw Jamie Redknapp giving Pogba his seal of approval after his performance against Newcastle, as if he was the architect of the win and not the real string-puller, Nemanja Matic.

Redknapp suggested that Pogba could be the same as Eric Cantona, a pied piper and fan favourite but anyone who understands the game will know that the Frenchman was indulged by senior players like Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister because he took the spotlight off them.

His arrival from Leeds, who had just beaten Manchester United to the title, in November 1992, diffused growing criticism of Ferguson and his team and while Cantona did some spectacular things, men like Roy Keane and Paul Scholes continued to indulge him for the same reason.

The true story of those years underlines Bruce, Keane, Scholes and Giggs as the real engines of success while King Eric wore his crown and hogged the headlines. In no way was he a good role model for kids.

Run the show

In the same way, when Manchester United visit Basel tonight looking to confirm their place in the Champions League knockout round, I'll be looking to Matic to run the show in his quiet way and create the platform for Pogba to do his showboating.

Look at the goal he scored against the Magpies again and you'll see brilliant work by Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford go unacknowledged by Pogba as he soaked up the cheers of the crowd and did his little dance. That's showboating.

He does a great deal of that on and off the pitch and it requires a lot of energy. The result is a steady stream of headlines - almost as many about his personal life as there is about his football.

I'm not saying there is anything bad about this. In fact, Pogba is notably good-humoured at all times and there is an innocence about the way he is enjoying his fame and the doors that have opened for him.

Pogba is certainly a great example of how someone with very little to start out with can rise to the top and in that way, he is an inspiration and should be praised.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho speaks with Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic (centre) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) during training ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash with Basel. Photo: PA
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho speaks with Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic (centre) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) during training ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash with Basel. Photo: PA

But in the cold analysis of football, whether a lad can sing and dance, enjoy a full and happy social and family life or have 4million followers on Twitter, it's neither here nor there.

A more important skill is can he run a football match? That's the claim made for him by Jose Mourinho when he signed him.

Redknapp was seeking breathing space and understanding for Pogba claiming that 'old school' criticism of the lad is out of touch with the real world and that the game has moved on.

It hasn't. The showbiz has risen to an unprecedented level but football hasn't changed that much. The pitch is the same, the ball is still round and 11 play 11.

I don't think Pogba has justified the hype or the value put on him and he's one of the reasons why Mourinho goes into this and every game not entirely sure which United he's going to see.

While Pep Guardiola added quality to a Manchester City team already designed to play the game with ball at feet, Mourinho has been bolting on big names to a squad neglected for perhaps five years.

Mourinho has been working with an accumulation of mistakes under three managers and initially addressed the imbalance in his squad by signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba.

Of the three, Ibrahimovic produced the best return so far and yet, his miraculous return to fitness gives Mourinho a headache. The Swede likes to roam deep, into the places Pogba would normally be and there will have to be some adjustment.

This, in itself, is a symptom of the greater problem Mourinho has. After 18 months in charge, he doesn't know his best team.

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