That narrative shapes the majority of stories written about Pogba by the press in this country and has been repeated so many times that many now see it simply it as ‘fact’. It is why Scott McTominay’s absence from a training camp is hardly considered news, but Pogba’s is seismic.
Last month, Sun journalist Neil Custis began an article framed as praise for the character of new United signing Bruno Fernandes with a jibe about Pogba’s attitude.
It focused on a game against Tottenham precisely two years earlier in which the player had seemingly disregarded instructions from manager Jose Mourinho in a United defeat…because there is no chance he could have matured or learned from that in the two full years since.
A week earlier, former Liverpool player Jason McAteer had laid into Pogba on beIN SPORTS, spouting what amounted to a repetition of tired clichés.
“To me, he just upsets the dressing room; he’s got too much of an influence on the younger players. That’s not what you want; you want James Milner and Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana,” said McAteer, taking the chance to also praise his old club.
McAteer doesn’t know Pogba, nor does he have ties to United that would give him that insight. He doesn’t know that Pogba is a bad influence, he just assumes it based on the narrative.
The problem for Pogba is that negative assumptions about him and his attitude have been able to run wild during his two lengthy absences this season. If United lose while he
In early January, Charlie Wyett of The Sun effectively used Harry Maguire’s perhaps ill-advised decision to play through pain while injured as a metaphorical stick to beat Pogba.
In a news piece that should have been about Maguire’s fitness ahead of a crucial game against Norwich, Wyett wrote that ‘Maguire’s attitude is in stark contrast to Paul Pogba’s.’ It was actually noted that Maguire was ‘ignoring medical advice’, which sounds a little cavalier when there are several important months ahead, and yet the implication is that Pogba was at fault.
Pogba is right to be cautious over his fitness and not risk anything. What’s more, his club will know that and will not be encouraging him to take risks when he has already missed so much football. There is simply too much at stake if he cannot get over these problems.
Having suffered a knock in August, Pogba missed the next two games. He returned to face Rochdale and Arsenal soon after, but was then not seen again until December. It was later reported he feared he may have been playing through an injury and made the problem worse.
When he returned to action in December as a substitute against Watford and later Newcastle, it was again reported that Pogba played through pain. It was said that when he came off the bench in the latter fixture, he was actively trying to prove his commitment to the club.
He had no hesitation when he was needed, despite reservations about his fitness, and was said to be aware of the perceptions about his attitude and so wanted to address that.
Those are not the actions of a work-shy player and perhaps explain why his return now is being so cautiously handled. The last thing that either United or Pogba needs is another setback by trying to do too much too soon. It is not just about this season, but the next few years.
The latest on his future has come from Jeremy Cross of the Daily Star, which framed Pogba’s absence from United’s upcoming winter training camp in Spain as a major transfer update.
Pogba was described as ‘a step closer’ to leaving because he had been ‘excluded’. It sounds like juicy stuff on the face of it – that’s what they want you to think – but dig deeper and it becomes apparent how little it has to do with the possibility of a transfer.
To link his absence to a transfer is lazy reporting when the Manchester Evening News explained this week that Pogba was never meant to go to Spain because he still isn’t ready to properly train. Scott McTominay hasn’t gone for similar reasons, but his future isn’t under scrutiny.
It’s not a case of Pogba being ‘excluded’ or being told to stay away. The reality is much more mundane. The Sun’s Gary Stonehouse piled in, even acknowledging the fitness aspect and yet still concluding, ‘…his absence does suggest that the star could be edging closer to securing a move away.’ When you’ve literally just explained why that isn’t the case, no, it really doesn’t.
Cross also wrote: “Six weeks after saying Pogba would be out for 'three to four weeks' following minor ankle surgery, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has chosen not to include the midfielder in his squad.”
This is certainly weak evidence given that recovery timeframes can change, especially where long-term injury is concerned and caution takes precedence over everything else.
It would be more suspicious if Pogba suddenly had a mystery back injury. Such ‘injuries’ are known to be popular with players angling for a move as they are hard to pick up on scans, often leaving club medics little choice but to take the player’s word for it.
In that scenario, questions and scrutiny may be warranted. But it isn’t the case here.
What it keeps coming back to is this narrative that Pogba is a problem, and every story and opinion on him is too easily tainted by it. Like anyone else, he should not be immune to criticism where it is justified, but we need to make sure he is treated fairly. Right now, it isn’t happening.