Pogba a big player in the mod­ern sense

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - Barney Ronay at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium

It seems safe to say Paul Pogba will never please ev­ery­one. Not least when so many of those watch­ing seem so ea­ger to be dis­pleased: to rail at ev­ery mo­ment of strug­gle, those times where Manch­ester United’s most in­ter­mit­tently cap­ti­vat­ing mid­fielder re­fuses to do all of the many things that have been ex­pected of him since his re­turn to English foot­ball.

United and Pogba have put­tered and sparked this sea­son. At times they have seemed a per­fect fit in the most un­wanted way, a team and a star player who are both prone to fades, mo­ments of drift, a sense of trapped en­ergy. Not so here. This was a won­der­ful, bois­ter­ous semi-fi­nal played out in a fug of heavy Lon­don heat, the kind of giddy spring day that stinks of cup fi­nals past.

In the mid­dle of which there was a mo­ment of shared il­lu­mi­na­tion as United pro­duced their most com­pelling big-game dis­play of the sea­son, com­ing from be­hind to beat Tot­ten­ham 2-1; and Pogba laid on one of his most con­sis­tently ef­fec­tive team ef­forts of a skit­tish year. His best mo­ment was a per­fect lit­tle minia­ture. United were 1-0 down, Pogba hav­ing played a hand in the ter­ri­ble de­fend­ing that led to Tot­ten­ham’s break­away open­ing goal.

Fu­tile at­tempts

In those mo­ments there was some­thing a lit­tle sad and ten­der about Pogba’s fu­tile at­tempts to gal­lop back, head bob­bing fran­ti­cally. A lit­tle later he was out­num­bered on the left, robbed and then nut­megged by Kieran Trip­pier, to huge rau­cous jeers. But he turned his af­ter­noon around with a fine hand in the equaliser, pulling him­self up to his full height and bring­ing to bear the full weight of that won­der­fully easy tal­ent.

First Pogba over­pow­ered the un-over pow­er­able Mousa Dem­bélé on the left, fish­ing the ball out and romp­ing away, spot­ting the run of Alexis Sánchez. A lovely dip­ping cross zoned in on the Sánchez fore­head, an ir­re­sistibly fra­grant, lilac-scented, rose-petal-strewn in­vi­ta­tion to nod the ball into the net, which Sánchez ac­cepted.

It was an ex­cel­lent piece of cre­ative play, and in just the right bruis­ingly mus­cu­lar fash­ion for those who crave this kind of thing from Pogba. Part of the Proper Foot­ball Man ob­jec­tion to his worst days is the shrill ob­ses­sion with his pow­er­ful physique, the idea that there is some­thing waste­ful, even a lit­tle cow­ardly in his re­fusal to spend most of the game barg­ing his way around the pitch in the clas­sic is­land-foot­ball style.

Much is ex­pected of this ab­stract no­tion of Pogba. A lot of it seems to be based in a swirl of pre­con­cep­tions, a folk mem­ory of the mid­field gen­eral who grabs an en­tire game in his great meaty hands: a kind of foot­balling Be­owulf, two parts Roy Keane high­lights reel, two parts false mem­ory syn­drome of those bulky-thighed mid­field bul­locks of years past.

Never mind foot­ball has changed. That it was per­haps never re­ally like this much in the first place. That it is hard to think of any mid­fielder who re­ally does this now in what is a hugely com­plex team game.

Pogba is re­quired to take charge – this de­spite the fact he is clearly a foot­baller who plays in mo­ments, who likes to tick along on the edges be­fore pro­duc­ing those pas­sages where the day can be bent to his will. With a lit­tle help, of course. At Wem­b­ley against Spurs in Jan­uary Pogba had played as part of a two along­side Matic in a game in which Dem­bélé marched United’s mid­field around Wem­b­ley in a friendly head­lock, am­bling through those wide lime-green spa­ces like a bear in pur­suit of a pic­nic bas­ket.

Com­posed

Here Pogba started in the most Pogba-friendly mid­field, with An­der Her­rera and Ne­manja Matic a fine, com­posed two-man es­cort. Her­rera in par­tic­u­lar was ex­cel­lent, cov­er­ing so much space and pass­ing so neatly that Pogba was able to use his guile and power with an in­creas­ing sense of pur­pose.

The pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with his mus­cles is it own kind of prej­u­dice. He is an art­ful mid­fielder, a passer and a drib­bler. In the sec­ond half there were a cou­ple of won­der­ful flighted cross­field balls, and a nice mo­ment as Her­rera scored the win­ning goal.

Pogba was in­field at the time, cov­er­ing the space as the ball bounced across the Spurs de­fence. As it hit the net Pogba stopped and raised his arms, a mo­ment of qui­etly touch­ing lone cel­e­bra­tion for a player who was used here in the best way, a high-grade cut­ting edge to a driv­ing team per­for­mance. – Guardian

‘‘ The pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with his mus­cles is its own kind of prej­u­dice. He is an art­ful mid­fielder, a passer and a drib­bler

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