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EXCLUSIVE Paul Pogba is one of the best players in the world ... when he's bothered


Paul Pogba celebrates after the final whistle following Manchester United's victory over Fulham

Paul Pogba celebrates after the final whistle following Manchester United's victory over Fulham

Paul Pogba celebrates scoring United's winner against Fulham

Paul Pogba celebrates scoring United's winner against Fulham


Paul Pogba celebrates after the final whistle following Manchester United's victory over Fulham

Towards the end of my playing career, I played with a lad called Adel Taarabt at QPR – one of the most frustrating footballers I ever played with.

He was an unbelievable footballer, but he just couldn’t be bothered, and I believe Robbie Keane had the same experience with him when they were at Tottenham together.

You’d watch him one day and think ‘he is just incredible’ but the next day he’s just sitting there on the sofa, not arsed in the slightest, complaining that his toe was sore, whatever excuse he had.

I don’t know if it’s the case that players like that are more fragile, or that they feel they deserve more than they are getting.

I believe they feel they are immune to being criticised, they feel they deserve more than their teammates and don’t have to work as hard as everyone else does.

To me, it was always simple: if you play to the best of your ability every week you’ll get all the praise from your teammates, get all the rewards.

If you don’t work, then the other players will have a go.

I think it’s like that with Paul Pogba. We have seen – particularly with Juventus and France – what he can do, yet he always leaves you wanting more.

For two years now, Manchester United have not got the consistent performances they wanted when they bought Pogba for a big transfer fee.

It’s difficult to get this type of player to play to their maximum week in, week out. But when they do play to their top level, they have the ability to change a game, as Pogba has done twice now for United.

A lot of people feel that the Frenchman is unfairly criticised, that pundits are always on his back, that he’s unfairly singled out.

But look at his performances for United in the last while and that’s why the criticism is there, because those match-winning displays against Fulham and Burnley are what Pogba can do, but he doesn’t do it often enough.

It can dictate the mood of a club if a player like Pogba is surly and sulky – they can bring other players down with them.

For any manager it’s a tricky balance between trying to get the best out of that player, while also needing strong characters in the dressing room around him to let him know he’s not performing.

Watching him now I think, why hasn’t he played at that level for the last two years?

Where has that intensity, that work rate been all that time?


Paul Pogba celebrates scoring United's winner against Fulham

Paul Pogba celebrates scoring United's winner against Fulham

Paul Pogba celebrates scoring United's winner against Fulham

Now he has been getting praise, and maybe it’s the praise he has craved all this time. So he will relish it but also push on and make a point that this United side is not all about Bruno Fernandes, that he can make an impact too.

The cynic in me looks at the timing of Pogba’s revival – it’s January and maybe he’s looking to get out in the summer, so he’s putting in that bit of effort now before he does move on.

Whatever the reason is, United are reaping the benefits, he has scored two vital goals in the last week and he is looking like the player United thought they were signing.

There’s a bit of steel about United now that wasn’t there. I think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had tended to play with fear but that’s gone now.

They seem to have more freedom in their play and a bit more belief in what they are doing.

But also, they can’t keep going a goal down in games – they recovered well against Fulham and that was a big win on Wednesday, but one day you will draw a blank, your luck will run out.

It shows real fighting spirit in a team to come from 1-0 and win 2-1 but you won’t always get away with it, you can’t just decide to start playing when you go behind.

For the FA Cup game on Sunday, Liverpool are more likely to rest players than United and, as a club, United need a trophy this season – it’s vital for the development of the team, and for Solksjaer as a manager, that they get their hands on a trophy. The FA Cup is a great chance to do that.

But it’s a difficult game for under pressure Liverpool because the Premier League and Europe are their priorities but they also need to improve on how they have been performing recently, cumulating in Thursday's night 1-0 defeat to Burnley. If they go to Old Trafford on Sunday, rest a few players while saying ‘it’s only the FA Cup’ and lose, then the dark clouds won’t lift any time soon.

I’d like to see the two managers put out their strongest sides and if United do start with a strong XI, you’d back them to beat out-of-form Liverpool.

Meanwhile Frank Lampard appears to be on thin ice at Chelsea and may not last the season. But maybe it’s not just the manager that’s the problem, and sacking him won’t fix what’s wrong.

Losing to Leicester was not good for him, but that doesn’t give enough credit to the Foxes who are a really good side.

Yet having finished fourth last season, and then spent £200m, the least you can expect from Chelsea is fourth place again and it looks like they will struggle. This season has been a lot tougher than Lampard imagined.

Once Chelsea lost a couple of games, the big question was how they would react and they just didn’t bounce back. That’s been their problem, reacting to their failures and figuring out what’s wrong.

In Chelsea, I see a squad that’s overloaded with attacking players. They have some really good individuals, but not a strong team. They’re not getting the best out of N’golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić is not at the level you’d expect from a top-four club.

It doesn’t always require a change of manager to turn it around, maybe it’s more a change of mentality. Lampard seems like the perfect fit.

He’s a young manager in charge of a young team and they seem to be headed in the right direction, but he needs to find that core strength within his team, to know that he can rely on these players. And he can’t be afraid to drop people.

Mason Mount seems to play every week but Lampard needs to be more fluid in how he selects his team, he needs to try different things. Lampard probably can turn it around but if they get a new manager, I don’t necessarily see that person getting them into the top four so maybe they should see the season out.

He will come out of this as a better manager and he can take that into next season.

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