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united win Paul Pogba’s display highlights when his Manchester United career has been a let down

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Paul Pogba 'looked like the world-class central midfielder Manchester United thought they had signed almost six years ago' in the Red Devils' win over Leeds at Elland Road yesterday - in the first half at least. Photo: PA

Paul Pogba 'looked like the world-class central midfielder Manchester United thought they had signed almost six years ago' in the Red Devils' win over Leeds at Elland Road yesterday - in the first half at least. Photo: PA

Paul Pogba 'looked like the world-class central midfielder Manchester United thought they had signed almost six years ago' in the Red Devils' win over Leeds at Elland Road yesterday - in the first half at least. Photo: PA

There were periods in the first half when Paul Pogba looked so good, so classy, so smooth that you could only marvel at his brilliance and declare how ridiculous it is that Manchester United are almost certainly going to lose him for nothing in June.

He looked like the world-class central midfielder Manchester United thought they had signed almost six years ago. He ran the show and gave Leeds United the runaround. This was Pogba at his very best.

The France international’s return from injury is awkwardly timed though. He has less than six months left on his contract and is running it down, just as he has intended to do for some time.

Challenged by his new manager, Ralf Rangnick, to earn a lucrative summer move to another of European football’s elite clubs by playing well for Manchester United, Pogba was doing just that.

Those who have always defended him during five-and-a-half inconsistent years at Old Trafford lauded their man. He was poetry in perpetual motion, the best player on the pitch and it proved they were right to claim he had not been the problem, merely a scapegoat.

For 45 minutes, it was hard to disagree. Pogba was superb, superior to all those around him, and his list of summer suitors would surely have grown had they been watching him strut.

There was a moment midway through the first half when Pogba pulled off a piece of such audacious skill on the edge of the Leeds area, that some in the crowd audibly gasped. They were home fans, what is more.

As the ball bounced towards him, Pogba used the outside of his boot to flick it over the head of the player tight behind him, Adam Forshaw, spinning around in one silky smooth move, to collect it again, nutmegging another Leeds defender before stretching out one of his long, telescopic legs to set up a shooting chance for Bruno Fernandes.

It was not his only display of individual brilliance in an eye-catching first-half performance.

Forshaw’s return from a long and complicated injury has been one of the better news stories in a difficult season at Leeds, but Pogba tormented him again out wide.

Standing the Leeds No 4 up on the edge of his own penalty box, the most mercurial of all Manchester United’s stars, he poked the ball around him and danced beyond the flailing attempts to stop his progress.

Pogba looked up, a low cross picking out Cristiano Ronaldo, who should have scored.

But in keeping with so much of Pogba’s time in Manchester, he did not just fade from the game, he disappeared completely. There were signs of complacency in his performance. He gave the ball away, he jogged back into position rather than sprinted.

As Leeds regained a foothold in the game and fought their way back from two goals down, it was the midfield battle they had won. It was Pogba who was being outmanoeuvred and outfought.

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From world-class game shaper to passenger. It is why Pogba infuriates as well as inspires. It summed up five-and-a-half years in the space of a few minutes at Elland Road.

Rangnick had seen enough, replacing the tiring Frenchman with Fred, who not only regained control in the middle of the pitch for the visitors but also scored his side’s third goal.

United won this game without Pogba and that is the problem. The 28-year-old has world-class talent, but continues to perform in flashes. He is a player who has brilliant moments, not seasons.

There will be plenty of clubs interested in signing him as a free agent when his United contract expires in June, but we still do not really know if his departure from Old Trafford should be mourned. He is too good for there to still be so much doubt.

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