Paul Pogba’s agent fees reveal a truer valuation of him

Drop hilarious pretence that winning Europa League would be a great honour for United

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho with his French midfielder Paul Pogba at Old Trafford. Photograph: PA

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho with his French midfielder Paul Pogba at Old Trafford. Photograph: PA

 

It cannot be easy wearing the tag of world’s most expensive footballer, and it may turn out the detailed transfer fee revelations of the past few days prove a blessing in disguise for Paul Pogba.

Since Manchester United brought him back in such costly fashion last summer there has been a background muttering for most of the season to the effect that he does not actually look like a £90m (€106m) player.

José Mourinho keeps saying that he will, one day, while United’s many detractors and even one or two of their supporters feel that pushing the boat out to the extent of breaking the world record ought to deliver a finished player from day one.

That amounts to pressure on the French midfielder, who might find the burden a little easier to bear now he has only to look like a £50m (€60m) player with an extremely wealthy agent.

It still does not add up to a bargain for United, whose spendthrift ways have been quite rightly derided by hard-up Accrington Stanley, though Pogba can hardly be blamed for the bonkers accounting and, viewed at a slightly more sensible price, the occasional ordinary or nondescript performance can be more easily tolerated.

Back in midfield Pogba was still having difficulty showing his true worth

Not that Pogba makes a habit of being ordinary, even if his first touch in this semi-final saw him accidentally carry the ball over the touchline and out of play. Ten minutes later he was surging free in midfield leaving a trio of opponents in his wake as he set up United’s first real attack, playing Marcus Rashford into the area but finding the striker too tightly marked to get a shot on target.

It was slightly worrying for the home support that by that stage in the game Celta Vigo had forced two saves from Sergio Romero while the visiting goalkeeper had not been in action at all, but United were clearly prepared to be patient in seeking to extend their advantage.

So much so in fact that there were a few boos and jeers when United began to pass the ball backwards, an impatience that was instantly regretted when Rashford ended up in possession on the left, and from an unpromising situation conjured the deepest of crosses for Marouane Fellaini to use his height and heading ability to good effect at the far post.

Pogba had been lucky to escape a booking for a clumsy foul on Pablo Hernández just before the opening goal. Clumsy fouls are normally Fellaini’s province but here Pogba was being used slightly behind the Belgian, along with Ander Herrera.

Mourinho must have felt Fellaini’s height and general awkwardness might cause problems for the Celta Vigo defence and told him to play further forward, and finding space further forward than Rashford was exactly what brought him reward.

Back in midfield Pogba was still having difficulty showing his true worth. When Daley Blind became the first player cautioned for a lunging challenge, his desperate attempt to win the ball back was due to Pogba’s careless pass putting him under pressure in the first place.

Mourinho needs to stop kidding himself that this United side is anywhere close to the standard of those that set the bar for European nights at Old Trafford

A few minutes before the interval he got away with a second foul on Hernández, as the visitors tried to hit back with a series of optimistic shots from outside the area, though on the credit side he might have ended up with a valuable assist at the end of the first half had not Rashford strayed marginally offside before receiving the ball in the clear.

Yet if Pogba was having an undistinguished night, so were most other people inside the stadium. Mourinho had appealed beforehand for “one of those great European nights that Old Trafford is famous for”, perhaps unwisely invoking a cherished tradition that this lacklustre occasion could not possibly live up to. As semi-finals go, it was a bit of a non-event until a late equaliser and then a fight enlivened the stoppage time that followed.

The quality on offer from either side before then was low, excitement conspicuous by its absence, and the atmosphere about a tenth of what was regularly generated at Anfield during Liverpool’s run to the final a year ago.

Perhaps it will be different in Stockholm but Mourinho needs to stop kidding himself that this United side is anywhere close to the standard of those that set the bar for European nights at Old Trafford. He could also consider dropping the hilarious pretence that winning the Europa League would be a great honour for United because it is the only trophy the club has never won. It would be an honour, no more.

It is still the Thursday night competition and everyone knows that United are mainly interested in it because a win in Sweden would gain them Champions League qualification they are presently unable to gain through their league placing.

The unvarnished truth is that United will finish outside the Champions League positions for a third time in four seasons and, as the clubs who have been keeping them out of the competition have not exactly been taking Europe by storm in recent years, there is bound to be a certain amount of catching up to do if and when they pick up a get-out-of-jail-free card in Stockholm.

United might be moving in the right direction but, for all the money they are spending, they are still drawing too many games and clearly have a way to go to reach Champions League level.

If Mourinho really thought this was going to be the biggest game in United’s history, he has a poor grasp of the subject in question.

Guardian services

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