Paul Pogba’s sublime rainbow heel flick typified his maddening genius

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Paul Pogba salutes the Manchester United crows ahead of their match with Leeds United, 20 February 2022 Elland Road.

Sometimes people like to say they don’t care about flashy tricks. They are lying. Everyone likes flashy tricks.

How can you not love something that makes you audibly gasp, that encapsulates the child-like enthusiasm that football lets us express on a weekly basis?

Chief amongst football’s great entertainers is Paul Labile Pogba, whose unique insistence on playing football like it’s a videogame is both the stuff of genius and frustration.

Since returning from injury he has wowed Manchester United fans once again and reminded them what they had missed – and will possibly miss entirely next season.

His tormenting of Adam Forshaw in Sunday’s derby against Leeds at Elland Road was further evidence of that – and his x-rated, backheel rainbow flick was the perfect summation of Pogba’s frustrating, frustrated genius.

Pogba had already created one gilt-edge chance, turning Forshaw inside out on the left of the pitch only for Cristiano Ronaldo to miss from point-blank range.

It was dazzling, but shortly after Pogba offered up another, even more magisterial move to the dribbling Gods.

Forshaw was once again the sacrificial lamb when Pogba, receiving the ball from a throw-in, backheel-flicked the ball over and around the Leeds midfielder with divine providence.

With his first touch, he met the ball with a combination of the back of his ankle and the side of his foot, lifting it over himself and Forshaw.

There the ball floated, hanging momentarily above the Frenchman’s head like a footballing halo.

Next, thanks to the eyes on the back of his head, Pogba knew Forshaw was breathing down his neck and the 28-year-old galloped around the Leeds man, now finding himself one-on-one with Luke Ayling.

He adopted a fighting stance, inviting his opponent to strike first.

Here was a Pogba supreme in his confidence, prepared to let his opponent at least try before swatting their effort away, patting them on the head, and getting on with proper footballing activities.

When Ayling thrust forward, Pogba parried him and allowed the Leeds captain’s own bodyweight to move him out the way to open up the space beyond.

We’re pretty sure he yelled “En garde!” as he did so.

Pascal Struijk then arrived, the next opponent for… oh, Pogba just took one touch to the right and let the defender’s momentum carry him beyond.

At times, it is just that easy for him: where a lesser player might worry about being surrounded by three players in white shirts, Pogba looked like he was that kid in the playground who played for a Premier League academy and needed everyone to know it.

Pogba then did well to release the ball to Bruno Fernandes, who was in space on the outside of the box precisely because Pogba had drawn in so many Leeds defenders.

The Portuguese midfielder’s shot was saved well to prevent Pogba’s work from going down as one of his greatest assists, but not to worry; may this article serve as a time capsule of his brilliance.

Pogba, fresh off of a prolonged absence, has looked sensational.

He has also looked happy, joking with his teammates and playing football with a smile.

In every game since his return, he has looked brilliant, just as last season he had that run around the new year which propelled United to the top of the table, or before that, when he looked like the best midfielder in the world during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s temporary spell.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that Pogba plays at his very best in spells and normally when he is motivated by something.

To win the World Cup, to prove Mourinho wrong, and now… to find a new club?

Ralf Rangnick himself has admitted that partly Pogba may perform until the end of the season precisely to put himself in the shop window.

“It’s not a question if a player has an expiring contract, the question is… how much does he still feel emotionally and physically on board,” Rangnick explained to the press on the eve of Pogba’s return.

“As long as this is the case, why shouldn’t Paul Pogba [play] now, after two and a half months of injury, fully fit again, and he wants to show the fans of Manchester United, the board, the whole world what kind of player he can be?

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Paul Pogba's Manchester United debut

READ: The 10 players Man Utd let leave alongside Paul Pogba in 2012

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“Even if it’s only to show enough for a new contract elsewhere, he will be highly motivated to do that and why should I then not play him?”

If he does leave in the summer, and there’s still a possibility he won’t, it will mark the end of a saga that began almost the second he returned to English shores.

He has oftentimes frustrated United fans with his tendency to lose the ball or to try just one trick too many while he himself has also been frustrated by an underperforming club that has failed to give him the opportunities he was told to expect.

By this point he should have won a Premier League, perhaps a Champions League, been Manchester United captain and perhaps be seen as the best midfielder in the world.

In brief moments, the last one at least has appeared true.

Yet in order to win against Leeds, for all of Pogba’s brilliance, Rangnick had to sub him off for Fred when United’s midfield was being overrun.

In the name of balance, Pogba was replaced, and in doing so order was restored.

That just about sums up his time at United.

By Patrick Ryan


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