Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness believes Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba is “a country mile away from being a great player”, calling the French international “a schoolboy in the playground”.
Pogba, who re-joined United from Juventus in 2016, has been inconsistent this season, struggling with a thigh injury between September and November and being suspended for three games in December. The 24-year-old has made 17 Premier League appearances, but his place has looked under threat in recent weeks.
The box-to-box midfielder was hauled off after an hour against Tottenham on Wednesday, January 31, resulting in him being dropped from the starting lineup against Huddersfield Town days later. Pogba was brought off in the second half of Sunday’s defeat to Newcastle United too.
“Maybe that will make the message finally sink in, but I doubt it. Pogba simply cannot be one of two in central midfield. You cannot rely on him. Against the lesser teams you’ll get away with it, but against the better teams you’re not going to,” Souness said, reports The Sun.
The former Liverpool midfielder believes Pogba isn’t disciplined enough, and feels manager Jose Mourinho is still struggling to get the best from him as a result. At Juventus, the 24-year-old enjoyed success as a left-sided central midfielder, a position Souness admits is when he’s been at his best for United.
“The best I have seen him play this season was in United’s win at Everton on New Year’s Day. He played on the left of a three in midfield and was drifting wide to be the tallest left-winger in the world, powering past people, dropping a shoulder, wrong-footing defenders and whipping in crosses,” he added.
“For Mourinho and United, it’s about finding the right position for him, but he isn’t a playmaker. If you’re looking for a central midfielder who recognises danger, fills spaces and doesn’t drift out of position, he’s not going to do that for you.
“When he’s asked to do a job centrally, he’s forever straying towards the touchline trying to get on the ball. A central midfielder should never be in areas wider than the penalty box, unless they are out there to confront danger defensively.
“When your side are in possession you should always be thinking: ‘If it breaks down, I’m out of the game.’ Pogba empties that central area far too readily. He will do something clever in the final third, but will be absent when his back four are under the cosh.
“He plays like a schoolboy running after the ball in the playground.”
Pogba has scored and created 12 goals in 17 Premier League appearances this season, averaging a tackle or interception every 38 minutes, while creating 30 chances and making 46 successful dribbles.
Mourinho needs to give the midfielder more freedom and less defensive responsibility to get the best from him.