Paul Pogba is probably one of the most divisive players in world football. A clearly technically gifted footballer, but one who so many question.
The doubts are ones often directed towards the more technical and creative types. Does he put enough effort in? Is he just playing for himself? Is his ego too large? With such arguments, it is often difficult to pick out the legitimate ones in amongst the truisms.
The above arguments are ones that centre around selfishness, questioning if the player is really committed to the team cause or not.
With so much angst seeming to be directed towards the Frenchman by certain pundits, fans and media, it can be tricky to actually unpick the truth. This is what we shall look to do in this article.
Defensive effort is often used as a kind of scale to measure how much a player is trying. When you don’t have the ball at your feet, how hard are you working to help your team mates win it back?
Pogba’s stats from the World Cup show that, during that tournament at least, he is prepared to put that hard work in.
In Didier Deschamp’s more defensively organised system, he made an average of 2.2 tackles per game. That’s more than his midfield partner and defensive midfield maestro N’Golo Kante, who himself managed 2.1 per game.
Kante’s 2.8 interceptions per game somewhat eclipse Pogba’s figure of 1, but there is no shame in managing fewer interceptions than the diminutive Chelsea midfielder. Pogba’s figure is still a decent one, especially considering he was tasked as being the more offensively minded operator in the midfield double pivot.
A note, too, should be given to the performance Pogba put in against Belgium in the semi-final and against Croatia in the final. He battled excellently with Marouane Fellaini during the semi to quell his rugged threat, and put in a masterful all-round display in the final. He made 4 tackles in that game.
What About United?
Pogba proved himself a highly capable and all-round team player at the World Cup for certain, but the main question marks over his selflessness tend to focus on his performances with Manchester United.
This season, his tackles per game rate has been 1.2 and interceptions per game rate 0.5 – less than at the World Cup. Instead, his offensive output has been slightly higher, playing on average around 10 more passes per game with about a 3% higher success rate. He has also had 3.5 shots per game, compared to 1.2 at the World Cup.
His differing position and role must be taken account when weighing these stats up. He has often been played as the most attacking player in a midfield three at United, alongside the more defensive likes of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Fred – now even being used in a quasi-No10 role under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With France, he was sat in a deeper double pivot position.
In this more advanced role for United, there are still other places to look for signs of selflessness and team ethic. He is the Red Devil’s provider in chief with 8 Premier League assists this season, and plays the most key passes per game in the squad with 1.6.
It has quite clearly been demonstrated that Paul Pogba has the capability and willingness to put in hard work for the team. His dogged displays at the World Cup show this, as well his more selfless (assists, key passes) attacking contributions to his teammates at Manchester United
It’s true that his performances dipped with United, but that wasn’t too surprising given the horrific mess of the club earlier on this season with an unhappy and waning manager, discontented players and a restrictive style of football. Pogba was no saint, but the whole situation should be taken into account.
So is Pogba selfish or selfless? He may have a lot of focus on his image, be it wanted or unwanted, but he has certainly shown his capabilities as a selfless provider to his teammates both offensively and defensively.