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Pogba hooked (again!): Have Man Utd already seen best of €100M man?

COMMENT: Hooked at Tottenham. Benched for Huddersfield. Hauled off at Newcastle. There's no escaping it. Paul Pogba is in the midst of a form crisis. And the question inside Manchester United must be: is that all it is...?

...because what if there's more to what we're seeing? What if this is it? Eighteen months into his return from Juventus. What if this is the best we'll see of Pogba? Indeed, what if his peak was all that time ago, back in August 2016 at Old Trafford against Southampton?

This column would argue as a complete performance, Pogba hasn't matched that. Upon his celebrated return, he ran the show. He was the "box-to-box" powerhouse Jose Mourinho described Pogba as being just last week. But we haven't seen it since.

For the manager, you know the tough questions are now being asked. There's Mourinho's words and then there's his actions. For all his support of the Frenchman last week, we have Mourinho's real thoughts on record - or better yet on the teamsheet. Pogba hasn't completed a full 90 in the past three league games. Three leagues games which have produced one win and two defeats. Sunday's decision was "tactical", as was the choice to go with Scott McTominay ahead of Pogba for Huddersfield. And even at Wembley, with Spurs flying, Mourinho chased the game with Pogba on the bench. You can't spin this one. The manager is losing faith in his No6.

Some are saying he needs a kick up the backside. Others claim he needs to ditch the social media. But for Pogba's fans, the stark reality is this is wishful thinking. That's all it is. The idea that a mentor or a coach can grab the player by the scruff of the neck, eliminate some imagined bad habit and suddenly he'll become the player we all believe he can be is the stuff of fantasy.

Pogba is a great character. A great pro. And from a down to earth family. A source who worked with eldest brother Mathias Pogba, now playing in Holland for Sparta Rotterdam, told this column: "We once had them all at training (Mathias, Florentin and Paul). They were just good, down to earth kids. All very bubbly and jokey. No airs about them at all - including Paul."

Mourinho has talked about Pogba being a future United captain. He's even given him the armband this season. Pogba's a good man. A good example for those around him. This isn't about character or professionalism.

Pogba has been found out. The difference between August 2016 and today was Leicester City manager Claude Puel, then in charge of Saints, went into the game cold. There was no preparation of how to handle Pogba or how he combines with his United teammates. Today, opposition managers know the midfielder's strengths - and more importantly his weaknesses - and are exploiting them. When Mourinho says he's hooked his €100m man for "tactical reasons", he's not messing around. Pogba, in the system his manager wants to employ, is becoming a liability.

With the ball or without it, United are finding themselves struggling to retain their shape with Pogba in the XI. He'll be 25 next month, but is still playing like he's with his brothers on the east suburban streets of Paris. That's Paul. Smile on his face. Having fun. Enjoying himself. But with no Andrea Pirlo to keep him in check and in a team that is having to fight for results every week, that approach just doesn't belong in this United team.

And as Mourinho will be deliberating this week: is that really good enough for a €100m investment?

Just before Christmas, Mourinho took aim at Pep Guardiola and Manchester City's spending: "...Pep arrived, he had the goalkeeper of England [Joe Hart], he doesn't like, he buys the goalkeeper of Barcelona [Claudio Bravo], he doesn't like him, he buys another one [Ederson], now he likes him."

But after committing all that money to bring Pogba back from Turin, is Mourinho and the United board now facing the prospect of writing that off and returning to the market for another potential midfield general?

This column has long argued Pogba is no box-to-box midfielder. He's Gazza. The Paul GascoigneSir Alex Ferguson failed to bring to United all those years ago. Push him forward. Rid him of his defensive duties. And let him do what comes natural beyond the halfway line.

But in this system and with the current personnel, such a prospect is a non-starter. Mourinho knows he'll need to buy another big money, big name midfielder this summer.

But it shouldn't be to replace Pogba. He can still be the player we all believe he is. But not in a "box-to-box" role.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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