Micah Richards was all of us. He couldn’t believe what Graeme Souness, a known critic of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, was saying. During the build up to Sky Sports’ Super Sunday coverage, centring on Manchester City’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur, attention turned to reviewing Saturday’s action. It wasn’t the words that came out of Souness’ mouth which were particularly strange, but rather the implications of them.
After Manchester United cut through Leeds United like a hot knife through butter on lunchtime the previous day at Old Trafford, almost every attacking player deserved credit. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men had laid down the gauntlet to their title rivals emphatically, with a 5-1 victory over a bitter rival.
Fans were back and roaring them on from the stands, Jadon Sancho was on the bench and Raphael Varane had been paraded before kick off. There was a sense that, after comparatively dark times for the club for much of the last decade, maybe some light was emerging at the end of the tunnel.
Souness praised Mason Greenwood, scorer of the second goal, as a young striker showing off the finishing skills which have seen him rated as the best at the club. There are so many reasons to be excited about him. He was excellent and everything lavished upon him by the Scottish former Liverpool player and manager was justified. But what Souness said jarred a little, particularly because Bruno Fernandes had scored a hat-trick and, even more pertinently, Paul Pogba had set up four of the goals, including Greenwood’s.
It wasn’t just that the Frenchman had put in the sort of display he was capable of — it isn’t unfair to suggest he hasn’t done that enough since returning to Manchester United in 2016 — but also that he did it with all eyes locked on him. There were moments of marvel at Euro 2020 this summer, including in the last 16 game they ended up losing to Switzerland but their defeat and exit were partially laid at his door.
Paul Pogba has always drawn criticism, not least for the seemingly never ending saga over his future, so for him to turn up and dominate a game will have allayed a lot of fears. Criticism is fair, especially of the best players who earn and cost the most money, but consistency is key. The same amount of credit must be given. It should be about swings and roundabouts.
So when Richards, an affable pundit clearly and deservedly revelling in his role as the ‘new kid on the block’, interrupted Souness with his signature blend of humour and relatable exasperation to remind him of what Pogba had achieved, it was a seminal moment.
Souness has become the butt of a running parody over his past comments on the 28-year-old. He is viewed as an eternal doubter, refusing to change his stance on a player he has never liked, to the point where Pogba’s hairstyles and social media presence have been used as ammunition against him when performances have dropped.
Now was the chance for Souness to put in a pin in the joke and show some self awareness. What he said, though, let the most open secret in football punditry free. There is now hard evidence to suggest Souness, and by extension the long list of gruff, hard-nosed ex-professionals who take issue with Paul Pogba on a number of levels, will never accept him.
Instead of openly complimenting what was a stunning performance, both in the realm of aesthetics and productivity, Souness was almost dismissive in his appraisal, saying that was expected from a £100m player.
In that moment, Souness either proved his own ignorance or, most likely, as is in keeping with the modern trend of punditry, saw an opportunity to further his ‘old pro who preferred the good old days’ persona in a world which sees disagreement as controversy and controversy as monetised content.
His logic didn’t stand up, He has praised Jack Grealish numerous times, despite the fact that he has just broken Pogba’s British transfer record with a move to City this summer, and he hasn’t been vocal about Harry Kane’s actions in trying to force his way out of Spurs. Were Pogba to act like that, there would be hell to pay.
If Souness applied that Pogba logic to everyone, no top player would ever get any credit for anything, let alone those who deserve it. Greatness would pass us by and the world would be filled with misery. Then again, that might just be Souness’ idea of utopia.
This isn’t about rallying in defence of Paul Pogba, who in many ways has made his own bed in certain situations, but rather calling out the way his misdemeanours are being used as funding for something unpleasant.
Either Souness is allowing his own unhealthy prejudices over modern football and the fanfare surrounding it to manifest, or he is utilising that as a hook to further make himself known as the token grumpy pundit. He has Roy Keane to battle for that, who is another Pogba-sceptic, but at least he comes across as numerous and insightful with his analysis. Souness looks bitter, now more than ever, and should be challenged every time he takes aim at Pogba again in future.
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