Roy Keane’s legacy at Manchester United is depicted as one of three faces on a banner in the Stretford End captioned with the word ‘standards.’ Paul Pogba’s will be that of a maverick midfielder who rarely reached those standards.
Some 10 years after the Frenchman left United as a free agent, he will do so again at the end of this month, as a six-year spell at Old Trafford finally reaches its sorry end. At times, Pogba was unplayable, but for an £89million transfer fee, such infrequent performances didn’t cut it, and when discussing him it is much easier to pinpoint ‘what could have been’ rather than ‘what was’.
Whether he liked it or not, he certainly gave his critics plenty of ammunition for them to fire back at him whenever he underperformed. His late agent, Mino Raiola, offered the player to rivals Man City in January 2018 and claimed the Frenchman’s United career was “over” in 2020. Pogba publicly said it was “time for a challenge somewhere else” in July 2019.
The Frenchman always retained plenty of backing from a devoted section of the United following, though his final Old Trafford act was to be serenaded by chants of ‘F*** off Pogba’ by a large section of the crowd.
This week, Pogba told UNINTERRUPTED that finding happiness would be crucial in his next move, in what seemed like a dig at the way he was treated at United towards the end.
“I just want the best for me. I’m thinking, putting everything together, take my time, and I’m just looking for the best, I want to play football, be myself always, and enjoy what I do,” he said. “I need to enjoy what I do because otherwise I cannot perform well. I don’t want to be thinking negatively. We can be losing games, trophies but you have to be happy and enjoy yourself — that’s what I’m looking for.”
While it is certainly admirable of Pogba to put his own wellbeing before football, his comments do certainly raise a question about his motivations if winning trophies is not the driving factor. It once again leads to comparisons with the trio depicted on the Stretford End ‘standards’ banner — Keane, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona — all of whom would sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team.
“Pogba’s performances over the last few years for United to me haven’t been good enough. It’s as simple as that,” club legend Keane told Sky Sports two years ago.
“We talk about energy but you need more than energy in midfield for Man United. You need creativity. You need lads with a bit of character and heart.
“He doesn’t show enough spirit, enough fight. He has talent but that’s not enough to play in midfield for Manchester United. You need a bit more than that.”
Keane, Robson and Cantona will always be viewed as the pinnacle of United players. Not only were they all exceptionally talented, but they possessed elite mentalities and the ruthless winning streak required at a club of such stature. In recent years, United have had players as talented as the trio — if not more so — though none have ever been able to match that technical ability with the priceless standards to go with it.
Instead, Pogba was the poster boy for a side that became better known for its marketability than trophy count, and his comments this week, no matter how sincere and well-meaning, highlight the lack of drive United have been suffering for almost a decade now.
To paraphrase legendary basketball coach John Wooden, a legacy should not be judged on what one achieves, but what they should have achieved with the talent they had at their disposal.
In the case of Pogba and United, that legacy should be so much more than it is.