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Pogba & Man Utd can succeed together: But the debate around the No6 must change

COMMENT: Stick or twist. Stay or be sold. It all comes down to today. And the crazy thing is, the future of Paul Pogba really is in his hands...

He'll start today. Just as he did against West Ham and Southampton. Two games at home. Two games where four points were dropped. And two games where errors from Pogba cost his team goals. But he'll be in today's starting line-up at Leicester City. Another player. A different profile. And a start isn't guaranteed. But not for Pogba.

Liability is a strong word in football. And no, this isn't going to be another exercise in running down Paul Pogba. But it has to be said, for all the flowery reviews, the Frenchman's form during this restart really hasn't been anything like it has been sold by pundits and media.

It's been solid. Above average at times. But there's been no matchwinning displays. No great flashes of inspiration. Better than workmanlike? Sure. But that's about it.

The accolades have fallen to others. The emergence of Mason Greenwood. The goalscoring and newfound energy of Anthony Martial. And the consistency of the excellent Bruno Fernandes. Others have grabbed games at the opportune moments. Have changed the momentum of results (for the better). And have kept United's top four chances on track right up to today and Leicester.

For Pogba, this can actually be a good thing. A welcome development. The burden of carrying this club is clearly too much for him. Indeed, this column would argue after some promising early showings, the idea of United's No6 being today's equivalent of a Bryan Robson, Roy Keane or Paul Scholes was never going to happen. Ability-wise. Personality-wise. On the pitch, it's just not there.

But this is no failing. It's just reality. And it also doesn't have to mean the end of this relationship.

Keane, for one, spotted it last week. The conversation around the Frenchman needs to change. Including, from what this column has learned, within the walls of Carrington. United, with Pogba an influence, can enjoy success in the coming seasons. But the Frenchman can't be the influence. And as Keane highlighted, more by fault than design, the leadership now being added by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can actually benefit Pogba.

"We've been saying the last year or two Pogba needs to take more of a lead with the team," stated Keane. "I don't think he wants to be a leader."

We'd disagree with Keane there; it's not a case of 'wanting to', but actually being capable.

Keane again, "I think Pogba will enjoy (Harry) Maguire coming in, showing different leadership skills, Fernandes as well on the pitch, Pogba likes that, he doesn't want to be the main guy.

"He wants to be the main guy on social media, but on the pitch he's thinking 'I'll be glad of that, I'll just be under the radar.' He looks like he's enjoying himself a bit more."

For "social media", you can substitute "locker room" or "squad". Pogba does want to have his say, but Keane is also correct when declaring the midfielder is happier looking to others to drive things forward on the pitch.

And that can be a good thing for the club. A good player in an excellent team. As Solskjaer has said: "You can never have enough good players". Pogba doesn't need to be a matchwinner. He can be. He is capable. But for United, it's no longer Pogba or bust. It's Fernandes teammates seek out for inspiration. It's Maguire they turn to for leadership.

Adam Lallana, the now former Liverpool midfielder, was brought to tears when discussing the sheer agony Jordan Henderson experiences as captain of the title winners. The demands. And how it cuts his friend to the core when things aren't going their way had Lallana welling up in a farewell interview last week.

Looking to others to feel United as Henderson does for Liverpool. To wear that strain of relentless responsibility. It can be what ultimately rescues this United-Pogba relationship.

We know he's instructed his agent, Mino Raiola, to answer the phone when Ed Woodward, United's vice-chairman exec, calls with their opening offer for a new contract. But we also know that Juventus, more than long time suitors Real Madrid, are determined to bid for their former player in the coming weeks.

And it could all hinge on the scoreline today from the KPS. He won't have to score. He won't have to lead. There's others around him to do that. But Pogba, if he's up for it, can personally shape the destiny of his career today. And as it stands before kickoff, he wants that destiny to be with Manchester United.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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