SportSoccer

Roy Curtis: £100m man Pogba is more Djemba-Djemba than Keane

SoccerBy Roy Curtis
'If you pay a Learjet premium it is in the expectation of a god of the skies, not a bird that has not yet learned to fly'
'If you pay a Learjet premium it is in the expectation of a god of the skies, not a bird that has not yet learned to fly'

ON his more barren and forgetful shifts, it is as if Paul Pogba’s eye-watering valuation emerged from the underhand imaginings of a Latin Arthur Daley.

As the Frenchman chugged and spluttered and coughed, so the sense grew that a shady and persuasive used car salesman must have duped Jose Mourinho into parting with the thick end of £100m to steer Pogba off an Italian forecourt. 

Had the Special One not peered under the bonnet, had he not perused the log book, had he been taken for a fool?

At times in these early days of his second Manchester United coming, Pogba has resembled less the most expensive footballer on Earth as a double-cross, an imposter.

Against Manchester City and Liverpool, the very contests for which he was recruited, the days to which he was to seize the title deeds, the 23-year-old was alternately anonymous or forlorn.  

One goal in 630 minutes of too often underwhelming, when-do-the-fireworks-start Premier League torpor brings to mind the title of Bob Geldof’s autobiography: Is That It?  

There have been glimpses: Of the coltish athleticism, the range and grace, the effortless power with which he can mow down opponents like a bowling ball flattening skittles.

Leicester and, on Thursday, Fenerbahce left Old Trafford with little inclination to deem Pogba Exhibit A in the prosecution of Mourinho as a coach with a declining eye. 

But even when he has shone, it has hardly been with a one hundred million splendid suns’ glare.

The Stretford End waited for Pogba to sail forth like a warship in full battle array only to be presented with a schooner bobbing feebly up and down on the Doldrums.

This, remember is the Triple-A rated, apparently blue-chip stock upon whom United have invested their future.

Pogba cost more than Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Luis Suarez; he was valued as a demigod, the prince of a generation, an empire-builder, an immortal.

But in these fraught early days, he has as frequently resembled a taller version of Eric Djemba-Djemba than a worthy successor to Best, Charlton, Cantona or Keane.

If that seems unkind, then it is the reality of life as the most exclusive designer label of them all.

The concerns apparent at the European Championships, where he appeared weighed down by the brief of leading the host nation to glory, have resurfaced and grown in volume.

The caustic reviews of his return to Broadway have fallen like acid rain on the Theatre of Dreams.

“Invisible”, “lacking in football intelligence”, “a mute witness to proceedings”…

And if Mourinho counter-snarled once more against the media “Einsteins” last week, he sounded more than anything like a man seeking to convince himself he had not made the most incoherent flourish of a storied career.

“In some of your mouths, he goes from worst in the Premier League to a great player in 48 hours,” spat Mourinho.

Except of course, nobody had remotely suggested in the wake of last week's triumph of Anfield tedium that Pogba was the worst player in England’s crazily over-hyped Big Top.

Rather, they had considered him as the One Hundred Million Pound Man and, by that pitiless measuring stick found him deficient, wanting, unfit for purpose.

It is not enough for the Koh-I-Noor diamond to give off the dull sparkle of a cheap trinket. 

He must become a force of nature, driving United forward, a great galleon with the wind at his sails.

United can hardly afford to fall off the pace yet, to disappear to the fringes of the title debate before the meaningful arguments have even begun.

The manager will not be indulged if the most expensive platoon of footballers ever assembled – £600m spent on transfers and salaries – drift back to the chasing pack.

It is all very well for Mourinho to demand patience, to insist Pogba “needs some time to show his potential.”

Indeed, it might even be an argument touched by logic.

Remember for example David de Gea’s tentative, stumbling first steps at Old Trafford; and then compare it to the imperious spine of United’s resistance that he has become.

But the Spaniard, even if, at £18.9m, he represented Alex Ferguson’s last audacious gamble, was not governed by the decrees that apply to the planet’s most lavish recruit.

The price-tag stapled to Pogba is one that, by its very nature, rewrites the rules: it fuels impatience, ignites expectancy, causes the jury to fret at the tiniest inconsistency.

Legitimately, for a player who cost 30-times more than Roy Keane, the Stretford End demands an instant return, they will not settle for anything less than the finished product.

If you pay a Learjet premium it is in the expectation of a god of the skies, not a bird that has not yet learned to fly.

If you buy back for one tenth of a billion quid a player let leave for nothing, it is in the expectation that he arrives from his Turin finishing school ready to turn the world on its axis.

Mourinho’s fate – and indeed his reputation as a manager with the enduring class to make a difference – will most likely rise and fall with Pogba. 

Those two goals against Fenerbahce – one a penalty, one a sumptuous long-range dreamboat – felt like a promising prologue to what might become a rip-roaring page-turner.

If the App Store were to offer a download of the perfect modern-day footballer, it might bear an uncanny resemblance to the second-generation Guinean. 

But football is governed by the laws of nature not those of virtual reality.

And until he proves the mob wrong, until he emits a consistent £100m purr, Pogba will continue to hear the accusations that United’s future perished on Arthur Daley’s forecourt.