When Paul Pogba resigned for Manchester United in August 2016, it was under the allure that he would figurehead the club’s return to domestic and European dominance.
The Frenchman was under the impression that his transfer would be the first of many world-class acquisitions over the coming years.
But as United slumped to a woeful 2-0 loss to Premier League basement club Watford, it became strikingly clear that the vision Pogba was sold three years ago has never been further from being actualised.
Pogba’s introduction midway through the second-half at Vicarage Road was the only positive from an otherwise bleak day.
Despite nearly three months on the side-lines, the 26-year-old looked a class above his teammates, and threatened the Watford defence more than all of United player’s combined.
He dovetailed brilliantly with Anthony Martial on a couple of occasions, offering United fans a teaser of how they could flourish under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in coming years.
The stark reality though is that Pogba’s performance on Sunday highlighted why his future might lie away from Old Trafford.
For over three years, the former Juventus midfielder has burdened the responsibility for his team’s performances – both good and bad.
So fickle is the nature of modern football fans, Pogba is the hero one week, and a villain for the next two.
Despite being regularly branded as a failure, Pogba often dominates the individual statistic rankings. In the 2018-19 season, the 26-year-old recorded the most assists, take-ons, chances created, duels won and passes into the final third.
But no matter how good an individual is, they cannot consistently carry a team that simply isn’t talented enough – it wouldn’t be unrealistic to suggest that even the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo would’ve struggled to maintain form at United over the past years.
During his second spell with the 13-time Premier League champions, Pogba has been fielded alongside Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic, and more recently Scott McTominay.
With no disrespect to those players, they are not the names Pogba would’ve envisaged seeing on the team sheet next to his. They are good midfielders in their own right, but they are far from the elite standard Pogba deserves to play with. For how long does a player of his standard tolerate such mediocrity?
Aside from David De Gea, Pogba is the only player at Old Trafford that could be described as being world-class, and it may be that lack of quality that ultimately drives the former Le Havre youth player form the club.
He could be playing with Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema at Real Madrid, or Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi at Barcelona. Instead, he is stuck in a team that sees Jesse Lingard as its first-choice number ten.
In March, Pogba will turn 27, and opportunities to play with the world’s best will only become more infrequent.
If Pogba does indeed chose to leave United for a second time, even the most ardent of Red Devils supporter would struggle to criticise his decision.
Professional players are expected to turn a blind eye to social media criticism, but it is hard to believe that Pogba has no idea of the fans’ perception of him – it cannot be easy being one the best performers at a club, while receiving the most hatred.
It is perhaps no surprise that when Pogba is surrounded by elite talent when playing internationally for France, he flourishes.
If the former world record signing does indeed choose to depart United, it will be equally unsurprising when he inevitably hits the form of his life elsewhere.
Alternatively, Pogba’s patience with United may be rewarded if he sticks it out for another year – if potential deals for Jadon Sancho and James Maddison get done next summer, the world-class teammates he craves will be coming to him, rather than vice versa.