Pogba seeks Stockholm salvation
Following a season of fits and starts, Paul Pogba will be expected to deliver the goods when Manchester United play Ajax in the Europa League final today.
Much like his team, Pogba has shown only fleeting flickers of form since his world-record £89 million (RM489.5 million) return to United from Juventus last year.
With Jose Mourinho’s side needing to beat Ajax to qualify for the Champions League, Pogba has a chance to both salvage his club’s season and silence his own critics.
“When you pay nearly £90 million for someone, you would expect them to blow your mind away at times on the football pitch,” for-
mer England striker Alan Shearer wrote in The Sun recently.
“But there have not been many times — if any this season — when you have watched the former Juventus midfielder and thought, ‘Wow.’”
United’s meeting with Peter Bosz’s precocious Ajax team at Stockholm’s Friends Arena follows a difficult period for Pogba.
The 24-year-old France midfielder recently spent time on the sidelines with what Mourinho described as muscle fatigue.
Reports suggest he is receiving ongoing treatment for a hamstring problem that kept him on the sidelines for three weeks in late March.
It emerged recently that world governing body Fifa is investigating Pogba’s switch from Juventus amid reports his agent, Mino Raiola, made £41.3 million from the deal.
Most gravely of all, Pogba recently lost his father, Fassou Antoine, who died following a long illness.
After a period of compassionate leave, Pogba returned to the starting XI against Crystal Palace on Sunday, contributing a goal and an assist as United closed their league campaign with a 2-0 win.
Pogba celebrated his goal by pointing to the sky above Old Trafford and later posted on social media: “My goal is for my Pap.”
Mourinho continues to express satisfaction with Pogba’s contributions, singling out his display on a difficult pitch in United’s 1-1 draw away to Rostov in the round of 16.
“The way he played in Rostov was amazing,” the United manager told Omnisport.
“He had little matches where the performance was not so good, but normally the performance is related to the team.”
With the influential Zlatan Ibrahimovic sidelined, there is even greater expectation that Pogba will stand up and be counted against an exciting but callow Ajax team.
He has tasted defeat in the two biggest matches of his career so far, losing to Barcelona with Juve in the 2015 Champions League final and falling to defeat with France against Portugal in the Euro 2016 decider.
Fall short for a third time and his price tag will only become heavier.
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba