Paul Pogba has committed an unpardonable sin, but we’ll get to that in a moment. More importantly, the Manchester United midfielder should be in mourning. He and his team have just returned from a 2-2 draw at Stoke City, a result that has ended any chances of claiming the Premier League title. During that game, he was thrown out of his rhythm by Mark Hughes’ careful exposure of his defensive weaknesses, and his showing was so shameful that he really should consider wearing a sack on his head when he next appears in public.
Okay, okay, that’s an exaggeration. But it’s only an exaggeration because, well, if you can’t beat the pundits who are hysterical about Pogba then you may as well join them. Garth Crooks, someone whose contributions to the progress of the game are deserving of the also want to discuss Paul Pogba’s new hairstyle, which features a red streak,’ wrote Crooks. ‘I only mention it because he clearly wants to bring it to our attention. There is so much for the midfielder to do at United and he still insists on behaving like an adolescent. ‘Granted, a hairstyle is not going to determine how well he can control a ball or make a pass, but it does say something about where his mind is at the moment. If you are going to attract attention to yourself on a football pitch do it with goals and performances, not cheap gimmicks and marketing tricks.’
As the saying goes, there’s a lot to unpack here. Pogba was not at his best against Stoke, but he was not abject, and he has mostly been in superb form so far this season — to the extent that he was a good shout for the Premier League’s Player of the Month award for August, a prize rightly claimed by Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. Why a less-than-stellar performance against Stoke suddenly makes him a child is anyone’s guess. Indeed, if the curtain-twitching guardians of football’s soul should pause for a moment, then they might reflect that Pogba, only a few days after the death of his father, scored the opening goal in the Europa League final against Ajax – the most important strike in United’s most important game of the season. If that is the behaviour of an adolescent, then we should all be lucky to have such stroppy teens in our team.
I mean, it’s not as if Crooks could have praised that red streak as a touching sign of Pogba’s obvious love for his club – one to which, in an age where loyalty and genuine affection for the fans are increasingly rare, Pogba returned despite the close attentions of Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid. And unless Crooks forgot, there’s very little Pogba can do to avoid drawing attention to himself. After all, a transfer fee in the region of £100million tends to make you conspicuous. And if Crooks had been paying attention to any of Pogba’s work so far this summer and autumn, then he would have seen that goals and strong performances have been Pogba’s hallmark.
This is why we come, then, to Paul Pogba’s unpardonable sin, which is that he looks to be having too much fun. And football, God forbid, should not be fun. It’s good honest miserable grind, isn’t it? The game has always been suspicious of those who are too well-groomed or whose skin excessively festooned with tattoos. Generation after generation, though, the naysayers have been shown that the pretty boys can play. Johan Cruyff had his many detractors, as did Neymar, but both have long since demonstrated that football’s show ponies can still see off the competition and claim the rosette.
But let’s reflect on another crucial factor. Did Garth Crooks and his fellow pundits not stop to think that, just maybe, Paul Pogba is protecting us? That if, should Pogba suddenly drop all his endorsements and lock himself in a cloister, dedicating himself solely to the development of his vision and technique, he might unleash a footballing force the like of which the world had never seen? Consider it – if he devoted himself to nothing more than man-marking, he would become so good at it that his poor opponents would be literally be abducted during the match, never to be seen again. If he focused exclusively on his shooting, he would soon be delivering strikes from distance that could shatter bone. If he just wasted less time smiling or dabbing, and practised slide-tackling, each of his challenges would disrupt the space-time continuum. Perhaps then the pundits would be satisfied, whilst maybe rueing the fury they had provoked by daring to police Pogba’s fashion choices. “If anything”, they’d muse in the studio, “he’s cut his hair too well.”
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just better to keep the critiques of Pogba sensible and proportionate – I know, I know, there’s little chance of that, given the lack of proportionality at the top end of the transfer market. The game may well have become a circus, but that’s no reason for pundits to descend into the realms of caricature.