Non-conformist? Paul Pogba is a champagne footballer in a beer tavern
Being unique can be one of life’s great blessings, but it often doesn’t feel that way.
It definitely isn’t desired at secondary school, where each difference is a perceived weakness and the need to conform is all-consuming.
Increasingly, it’s not desired in the Premier League either. As the gegenpressing pioneered by Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund became the tactics du jour, hard running replaced laid-back skill as the major requirement of an elite footballer.
Witness Jose Mourinho bundling Juan Mata out of Chelsea at the first opportunity in 2014. Witness Christian Eriksen floundering in Italy. Witness the sad decline of Fortnite’s Mesut Ozil.
Paul Pogba would seemingly fit neatly into this category too. Despite possessing all the qualities to dominate games, he can often appear to drift through matches with the distracted air of a bored schoolchild watching a leaf blowing in the wind.
But Pogba has always been more than this. The World Cup winner is a lithe joy of a playmaker, technically brilliant and capable of match-winning contributions that appear out of nowhere.
Whether it’s a defence-dissecting pass or a Steven Gerrard-esque thunderbolt from distance, it’s little wonder that Pogba compilation videos are so popular on YouTube.
Paul Pogba’s game by numbers vs. Fulham:
85% pass accuracy
21 final third passes
9 ball recoveries
5 tackles attempted
4 tackles won
3 switches of play
2 take-ons attempted
2 take-ons completed
Outstanding. 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/adrFHMChYE
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 20, 2021
Against Fulham, on a dank night by the River Thames, Pogba was a quietly majestic presence against opponents who provided greater resistance than the league table suggested they would.
The midfielder ran the game at times during the first half and his air of command spread throughout the team after an uncertain beginning. It was also notable that he visibly offered encouragement to his team-mates before kick-off – his popularity within the dressing room has been used to defend Pogba during his dips in form.
Yet Pogba wouldn’t attract such an army of backers if he wasn’t also an outstanding footballer.
With United being matched by a stubborn Fulham display, only a moment of individual quality would break the impasse.
Enter Paul. Killing a falling ball with a feather-like touch, he wandered inside and noticed Fulham had left an inviting gap to exploit.
One left-footed wallop later and the match was won. Pogba’s goal was so good it elicited a cry of startled glee from the United bench.
Paul Pogba, stop that! 🤯
The control, the turn, the finish.
Ridiculous! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/4WOazDVX1Y
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 20, 2021
As the match drew to its conclusion, Pogba found time to showcase his outrageous passing ability. While mere mortals would simply run the clock down, the France international decided to roll his foot over the ball and loft a pass over to Bruno Fernandes.
It was a pass that demonstrated Pogba remains a champagne footballer in a beer tavern.
It’s often said that some players are worth the admission price alone. With society locked down, Pogba is a player worth opening your laptop for.
unreal from Pogba pic.twitter.com/y8gzuYZ2r9
— mike (@mkacomps) January 20, 2021