Paul Pogba did not need this penalty furore. Putting aside the moronic racist abuse he received that has been rightly condemned by Manchester United and many of Pogba’s teammates, this was an on-field controversy that he and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may well have been dreading. But even the more intelligent side of the debate is hitting the wrong notes. Pogba has not only been on the end of some atrocious racist slurs, he has been vilified from a pure footballing perspective. Again. The vultures are always circling Pogba, waiting for him to slip up. Think Graeme Souness, think other pundits, think the thousands of rival fans who boo Pogba simply because of his superstar reputation and the United contingent who expect far too much of him.
Anyone can miss a penalty and quite frankly it was an error from Solskjaer that he didn’t make it clear who was taking United’s spot-kicks. Marcus Rashford scored one against Chelsea and should have stepped up against Wolves. A poor management decision and nothing more. Okay, Pogba insisted he take this one and made a mistake himself. if you’re going to chastise Pogba, do so for his technical error, not his brashness. That is the nature of the player. He is confident, he has an ego, he believes in everything he does. It’s the same reason he mentioned once that he quite fancied a “new challenge” at a club like Real Madrid — arguably the only place players can go to better themselves after United. The same reason he will never settle or blend into the crowd.
To make best use of Pogba is to embrace his uniqueness. Cajole him, encourage him, use his talent. Some supporters will never understand Pogba because they won’t see past the headphones, the jewellery and the Instagram stories. Scientist Albert Einstein once said: “The only difference between genius and insanity is that genius has its limits.” If that is true, then there’s no doubt Pogba is a footballing genius — but with limits. He’s not the strongest penalty-taker, he sometimes takes undue risks in possession, he’s not the best defensively. But think about the other players in United’s squad and who could have won that penalty against Wolves in the first place. Who drives into the box with that power? Who has the vision and the slight of foot to spot the gap and dart between the opposition’s defenders?
Gary Neville admitted his first reaction to the penalty incident was to blame Pogba. “Initially I was fuming with Pogba,” said the United great. “‘Typical you, you’re selfish’ Why are you even thinking of taking a penalty off a player?’ “Actually, it’s weird, something is not right. “They should decide before they play. This is not right. This is a Manchester United penalty. This is not tombola.” Many shared Neville’s reaction and will continue to stress that Pogba is a bad fit for United, while grudgingly admitting how vital he is to Solskjaer’s side. Because they badly lack midfield invention and creativty. Few in world football can control the ball like Pogba can. He can do things on the football pitch that simply nobody else in United’s squad can do. Just watch the way he holds off players in midfield, how he negotiates himself out of trouble. This guy is brilliant and part of his brilliance is his confidence.
If this is to be the World Cup winner’s final season at Old Trafford, supporters should sit back and admire his talent, his fearlessness. Yet whether Pogba will ever be fully understood by British football fans is a relevant question after this latest tirade of criticism. Maybe he’s just too mercurial for his own good. Like everyone else, he is human and won’t get it right every time. That’s life. That’s Pogba.