Manchester united – Five and a half years for what? Paul Pogba and Manchester, troubled and troubled relationship

It was on November 2 that we saw Paul Pogba in the Manchester United jersey for the last time this season, in an inglorious 2-2 against Atalanta in the Champions League; and it’s not yet this weekend that we’ll see him again. The thigh injury he suffered during the last gathering of the Blues, a week after the draw of MU against the Italian club, has still not resolved, and it will not be until mid-February at the earliest that he will return – if, of course, Ralph Rangnick wants him, which is not certain.

Irritated to have seen his number 6 doing part of his convalescence in Dubai, the new United manager had not been the most encouraging when he spoke about the immediate future of the ex-player most dear in the world. « I spoke to him fifteen minutes on the phone« , Rangnick had said in mid-December. « Let him come back, get his fitness back, train with the group and then we’ll see, depending on how the team has developed since. [son absence] ».

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I wouldn’t say it’s not worth keeping, but

It will be said that given the less than convincing performances of the Red Devils in recent weeks, this ‘development’ has been long overdue, and that remembering the footballer who had started his season so well with the Mancunians – eight assists in the four first days of the championship – would not be such a risky bet. Even if it is a little difficult to conceive how exactly Rangnick could integrate the Frenchman into the 4-2-2-2 which he has chosen as the system for his new club and even if some of his other comments do not inspire optimism about a possible contract extension for the player whose lease comes to an end on June 30.

« I wouldn’t say he’s not worth keeping, but of course players have to want to stay and play for a club, [surtout] for a big club like Manchester United« , he said. « If a player doesn’t want to play for a club like Manchester United in the medium to long term, I don’t think it makes sense to convince him to change his mind.« .

Paul Pogba

Credit: Getty Images

In short, if the manager has changed, we will not say the same about the relationship between Pogba and the club from which he left as a teenager to return as an adult, a relationship that is still just as troubled, and troubled, to the point that we can wonder if the five and a half years that the player, who dreamed of Ballon d’Or, spent at Old Trafford since his return in 2016, will not have been a huge waste for him. You can be world champion and, despite that, give the feeling of having missed out on your career. Let’s not forget that Pogba will enter his thirtieth year on March 15. Hurry up.

Almost incomprehensible fragility

He presses all the more that the magnificent athlete that we know is also of an almost incomprehensible fragility – an aspect almost never mentioned in the « debate » which surrounds him permanently, whereas he could well constitute the crux of the problem, certainly with regard to the inconsistency of his performance with Manchester United. Those who hate Pogba are as much about the color he chooses to dye his hair (which, for some, is also a way of attacking the color of his skin) as he is about his moments away in the defensive recesses. Those who defend him blame the negligence of the regime in place at Old Trafford, and choose to ignore what is divisive in his behavior, and what legitimate frustrations he arouses. What both sides forget is that Pogba’s first enemy is his own body.

It wasn’t much of a concern in his time at Juve, where he missed just eleven games through injury in four years, all of them in 2013-14, emerging from the other three perfectly unscathed. It went – ​​it goes – quite differently at United, where four of his six seasons, including the present, have been disrupted, even marred by a series of stretches, creases, tears and other injuries. In total, these injuries will have caused him to miss 81 Red Devils matches since his return to Manchester in the summer of 2016, including 79 since April 1, 2017.

. Eighty-one matches.


Credit: Getty Images

Admittedly, not everyone can be Bruno Fernandes, whose addition of the number of meetings missed due to physical glitch since the same date is quickly done: zero. But 81, all the same…the figure is staggering, out of all proportion to the physical problems that his United team-mates may have experienced – or what other reputedly ‘fragile’ midfielders like Kevin de Bruyne, N’Golo Kanté and Jordan Henderson, who respectively missed 46, 47 and 52 matches for Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool during the same period

. These three, whose game is by the way much more explosive and physically demanding than that of the Red Devil, are far from the mark, a count which is all the more worrying as none of Pogba’s injuries have was due to an impact or rupture of the ligaments.

First problem, the fragility of his body

What’s more, it was difficult to associate them with overwork imposed by one or more coaches who would have made him play in the ‘red zone’. In 2017-18 as in 2019-20, his season was ended after only half a dozen games, and this season he had played only a quarter of the two Premier League matches that preceded his injury.

We cannot incriminate the medical staff of Manchester United either, insofar as these muscular problems did not affect other of their players as they affected Pogba, unlike what we could see at Arsenal, for example, where, for a time, Arsene Wenger’s players seemed to take over in the infirmary for similar injuries.

So we have to look at Paul Pogba’s trajectory at Manchester United differently, and accept that this permanent succession of ups and downs perhaps owes more to the fragility of his body than to any other factor; and when you count the frustrations her career has engendered, perhaps none is more infuriating than that.

Pogba was also sidelined for 21 matches for the France national team during this period, again through injury.

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