Paul Pogba: Remembering the Frenchman’s First Year as a Professional

Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba rejoined Manchester United in 2016 | Pool/Getty Images

Love him or hate him, Paul Pogba is a truly gifted footballer, and one of the most high profile names in the game.

While it’s hard to imagine, before he was this big name superstar, a time before he was despised by Graeme Souness (hard to imagine that, isn’t it) he was simply just Paul Pogba – a young man among many other stars in Manchester United’s famed academy.

To make him sound even more ordinary, he wasn’t even the best player in the academy – with the now infamous Ravel Morrison the name on everybody’s lips.

After having helped United’s academy stars claim the FA Youth Cup in 2011, Pogba found himself on the fringes of the first team, with 2011/12 his breakthrough year in senior football. Well, not really.

The then 18-year-old was promoted permanently into the reserves, with manager Sir Alex Ferguson keeping a watchful eye over the young Frenchman, as United pushed on in pursuit of retaining their Premier League crown.

At that time however, the pathway into the United first team squad was not without obstacle, as the club already had a number of central midfielders including Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs and Anderson. At the time, Pogba, in the eyes of management, wasn’t ready nor trusted enough to warrant more game time.

With United looking on course to retain their title, opportunities for the young man were few and far between, with domestic and continental cup competitions perhaps his only chance of gaining any taste of senior football. So it was in the League Cup that Pogba made his United debut, coming on for Ryan Giggs at half-time with the Red Devils leading rivals Leeds United 3-0.

Mikael Forssell, Paul PogbaMikael Forssell, Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba made his senior debut against Leeds United | Gareth Copley/Getty Images

For anyone who watched that game or has seen his individual highlights since, it is clear to see that all the characteristics of the modern day Paul Pogba were there, just in a slightly rougher form. His early cross-field pass out to winger Antonio Valencia showcased both his undoubted talent and his burgeoning self-confidence.

Pogba would follow that up with another substitute appearance against Aldershot Town in the same competition, before making his Premier League debut against Stoke City in January, coming on in the 71st minute.

In truth that was the tale of that season for the young midfielder, as he made a handful of senior appearances (7), yet all were both off the bench and towards the latter stages of games There was little time to make an impact.

Paul Pogba, Jonny Evans, Tom Cleverley, Patrice EvraPaul Pogba, Jonny Evans, Tom Cleverley, Patrice Evra
United were shockingly dumped out of the Europa League | Michael Regan/Getty Images

He did enter the fray early in the second-half in United’s last 16 second leg tie against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League. Ferguson’s men would ultimately go on to lose 6-3 on aggregate, with Pogba demonstrating the frustrating tendencies which even plague his game today – taking too much time on the ball and cheaply giving away possession.

While his game time was limited, it was perhaps no different to how any other young player was handled during Ferguson’s time at the helm. But as we know, Paul Pogba isn’t just any other player.

The self-confident and self-assured young starlet had hoped for more and was particularly irked when he was overlooked despite United suffering a catalogue of injuries in central midfield. Instead of looking to the academy, Ferguson instead turned to a recently retired hero – Paul Scholes – while continuing to field makeshift midfields made up of defenders.

As Scholes himself recently explained, it was this situation which essentially spelled the end for Pogba at the club, with quotes via The Sun: “They had a load of injuries, no central midfield players were fit. They ended up playing Phil Jones and Fabio da Silva in central midfield in a game against Blackburn at Old Trafford.

“Funnily enough that was the end of Pogba, because he thought he should have been playing instead of them. But he wasn’t doing well enough.”

In the end, Pogba’s expiring contract coupled with interest from Juventus meant his time in Manchester was over. To compound matters even further, United missed out on the title on goal difference following *THAT* Sergio Aguero goal on the final day.

Paul PogbaPaul Pogba
Pogba quickly settled in Turin | Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

As United went on to struggle following the retirement of their legendary manager, Pogba continued to blossom, with his increased game time and freedom in the Juve team helping to develop arguably Europe’s most gifted all-round midfielder.

After four years away – and what a seemed like a lifetime of having to watch their former prodigy tearing it up in Italy – Ed Woodward brought Pogba back to Manchester. The eye-watering £89m fee paid for a player formerly allowed to leave for free will have stung United no end, yet in fairness to Sir Alex it was one of few mistakes in over 20 years in the dugout.

It’s been a turbulent time since then to say the least, but the arrival of Bruno Fernandes has sparked new life in both the Frenchman and the club, with a brighter future hopefully on the horizon.

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