FIGJAM was the nickname given to Kevin Pietersen by the Australians after they first encountered the brash England cricketer. Fuck I’m Good Just Ask Me summed up the way KP played the game, and he delighted some and got up the noses of many others. The strange thing about Pietersen though was his ability to be criticised for doing the things that usually entertained us. The same style that brought us switch hit sixes, the Flamingo shot and the 186 in India, the 151 in Sri Lanka, the 149 against South Africa and the countless hundreds against Australia also brought us the ludicrous shots to bring up a 100 with a 6 only to get out, the lapses of concentration and the bizarre public statements. As Dolly Parton said if you want the rainbow you’ve got to put up with the rain; and people say she’s just a big pair of tits.
If the Australian cricket team ever played against Paul Pogba they would probably borrow Pietersen’s nickname. The French midfielder exasperates many with his tendency to overcomplicate the game and the appearance he is gliding around. However, Pogba is 25, has won four Serie A titles, the Europa League, five cups and the World Cup, he probably won’t change now.
At his best this season he has waltzed through games, all clever flicks, arrogant struts and effortless changes of pace and tempo reminiscent of Roy Keane at his best. His assist for Fred against Wolves was sublime and his performance against Leicester and Everton contained some of the best passing and midfield play seen this season, and his second half away at Chelsea showed he has the all round midfield ability to change games at the top level.
Pogba is joint top for goals and assists among midfielders (level with Ross Barkley another misunderstood, maligned midfielder used to not being used in his best position) and third for passes and touches. Last season Pogba was only behind the City quartet of De Bruyne, Sane, Sterling and Silva for assists and registered his at a quicker rate due to playing significantly less minutes. The comparison to City midfielders is telling, Pogba is often derided as needing a system to unlock him as if the Manchester City midfield isn’t perfectly designed to get the best out of De Bruyne, Silva, Sane and Sterling. A question I often wonder when discussing if United get the best out of our players is if Guardiola and Mourinho had swapped jobs in the summer of 2016 which team would be better? I doubt many would back a Jose team managing Silva and de Bruyne playing wide with Sterling ostracised and Sane on the bench against Guardiola playing his brand of football with Mata, Martial, Rashford and Pogba.
Pogba also hugely benefitted in the Everton game from having Rashford up front stretching the game with his movement, something seemingly alien to Lukaku. With Martial and Shaw in form down the left and Mata playing in a tucked in right sided role Pogba looks set to flourish and at his price point is certainly worth a look in fantasy terms especially in other games that reward pass and tackle stats.
After the game against Manchester City, a game where Pogba grabbed a game turning brace last season, United play Crystal Palace, Fulham, Huddersfield and Bournemouth at home and visit Southampton, Cardiff and Newcastle before the turn of the year and could be set for a run of form as Mourinho bids to save his United career.
Any discussion about Pogba is always dominated by his negatives and his penalty run up is now indefensible. When he unveiled it on the opening night against Leicester he the proceeded to score a great penalty, high and unsaveable into the top corner. Since then though he has missed twice against Burnley and Everton whilst notching against Young Boys and Brighton. A sixty percent strike rate suggests the need for a slight change and the suspicion is that his slow, jittery run up is only slowing his momentum and signalling where his body shape is going to the keeper indeed despite going left, right and down the middle on his spot kicks this season Pogba has only sent the goalkeeper the wrong way once in five kicks.
So if the penalty run up is ludicrous and indefensible what about his propensity to give the ball away in midfield that has led to goals for Wolves and Everton? Well Pogba is a creative midfielder, he should be able to give the ball away trying something 50 yards away from goal without it automatically leading to United conceding. The goal against Wolves still had several passages of play where defenders failed to clear, whilst his flick against Everton was poor it doesn’t mean that Smalling has to leap in like a Phil Jones tribute act to concede a penalty. No one worries at City if a De Bruyne or Silva pass goes astray. Pogba is judged in different ways to others and part of that may be a desire to see him be the best he can be but some of it is unfair; either way Pogba won’t change – fuck he’s good, just ask him.