Manchester United’s worst ever start to a Premier League season has raised more than a few eyebrows. Everyone has their own opinion regarding why their expensive squad hasn’t, so far, clicked into gear. Some blame new manager José Mourinho, suggesting that the Special One has lost his Midas touch. Many, however, have pointed the finger of blame firmly at their new record signing. But Paul Pogba’s critics should really take a look at the overall picture.
It’s fair to say that the world’s most expensive player has not dazzled this season. It is, however, a touch unfair to suggest that he is to blame for United’s current slump. A closer look at the overall situation shows that Pogba is actually doing just fine.
Whenever a player transfers for a huge amount of money, there is extra pressure to perform. The weight of expectation is applied by fans, pundits and media alike, even more so when it’s a record fee. It seems that the player is expected to all of a sudden become a superhuman. Because Juventus decided that any suitors would have to break the world transfer record to land Pogba, and because a club with ridiculous spending power decided to pay it, doesn’t alter the fact that he is still a human being. As such, he is likely to suffer from the same issues that could likely affect anyone. These include, confidence, settling in, adapting to a different style of football and his new team mates. A huge transfer fee does not make those issues go away.
Another ridiculous point is those that have slammed the fact that he cost more than Cristiano Ronaldo. Apart from the fact that a player does not set his own transfer fee, this is a redundant argument. Ronaldo left Old Trafford more than seven years ago, and if Real Madrid were buying him as a 23 year old today, it’s highly likely they would be paying at least double what they paid for him back in 2009. That’s how much transfer fees have risen in that time. According to the Daily Telegraph, Lionel Messi has a €250 million buyout clause in his contract. The same article suggests that Ronaldo’s is €1 billion.
Ten years from now, it’s not impossible that we will be talking about the first billion pound player. Every time a new television deal is negotiated, the fees continue to rise. As a result, so do the wages and the transfer fees.
You cannot prove an argument by using statistics alone, as they rarely tell the whole story. A good way of proving this is that, during David Moyes’s ill-fated ten month spell at Old Trafford, Tom Cleverley’s statistics (90% pass completion) made him look like one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. In spite of this, the United fans were not particularly upset when Louis van Gaal deemed him surplus to requirements.
Statistics can, however, give a certain indication as to whether a player is doing what is expected of him. On the face of it, two goals and one assist is hardly the output expected of the world’s most expensive player. But this only tells half the story. The information compiled by statistics experts Squawka shows that, so far this season, Pogba has created 23 chances for his team mates. It also shows that he has an 86 % pass completion, with 76% of them forward passes at the time of writing. Against West Ham United on Sunday, his brilliant ball to Zlatan Ibrahimović resulted in his sides equaliser.
Manchester United have drawn their last four Premier League matches at home, yet in those games alone they have had 91 shots at goal. The fact is that Pogba is doing what he is paid to do, but the people playing ahead of him clearly aren’t. Their forwards have wasted several clear cut opportunities to win all of those games. You have to wonder how many of those chances Pogba created would have been converted into goals had someone like Sergio Agüero or Diego Costa been on the end of them.
Maybe some people expect that his world record fee means Pogba should be taking on entire teams by himself. The simple fact is that he is not Messi or Ronaldo. He has been bought to do a job, and the statistics indicate he is doing just that.
As is always the case in these times where social media rules all, every time Pogba misplaces a pass it will likely go viral. This is one negative aspect of sites like Facebook and Twitter, that such tools can be used as a proverbial stick to beat a player with. But just because Pogba, hasn’t set the world alight just yet does not mean he is a waste of money. It merely means that we haven’t seen the best of him so far.
So far there has only been flashes of what he can so far. His goal against Swansea showed superb technique, as did his assist on Sunday. If he can produce more of this on a regular basis, nobody will be talking about him as a waste of money. He’s 23 years old, and has his best years ahead of him to show that he was worth it.
Many people said that Rio Ferdinand was too expensive when United signed him for £29 million in 2002. When he left twelve years later he was regarded as one of their best ever defenders. Given what United won spread over that period of time, the fee doesn’t look that much in reality. If United get the same level of service from the midfielder, people might be saying the same thing ten years from now. Pogba’s critics might well be made to eat their words.