The moment Manchester United and Paul Pogba relationship began to sour – Dominic Booth

Scroll through the pictures of Paul Pogba from Manchester United’s 3-2 victory over Norwich on Saturday, and you will most likely see him smiling. Except for the image of him cupping his ear towards the Stretford End.

United beat the Canaries 3-2 (thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly pulling them from the mire again), but the singing in the stands was not particularly positive. The anti-Glazer sentiment was long established before Pogba and others received their share of pelters from the terraces.

Still, Pogba cut his usual relaxed figure and wowed with a few moments of outrageous skill on the pitch. He was comfortably United’s best midfielder on display, although he was subbed on 74 minutes without a goal or assist and the introductions of veterans Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic made a significant difference. After full-time, he showed fans what he thought of their jeers.

READ MORE: Paul Pogba breaks silence after being jeered at by Manchester United fans

It felt like Pogba’s career in a nutshell: flashes of talent, involved in a chaotic and unimpressive United performance, and little end product to show for it all. Throw in the reception he got from the fans and you have it all summed up. The relationship between Pogba and United supporters has been frosty for the best part of three years.

A similar incident occurred nearly three years ago at Old Trafford in similar circumstances. United were passive and poor in a game against Championship-bound opponents when they took on Cardiff City in May 2019. That day they actually lost 2-0 and Pogba was on the receiving end of the Stretford End’s ire.

Later that summer, while on tour with his sponsors Adidas, Pogba publicly outlined his desire for a “new challenge”, fluttering his eyelashes in the direction of “dream” club Real Madrid – at the time managed by the midfielder’s idol, Zinedine Zidane.

The truth is that United should have severed ties with the player in that very moment. Pogba had played well enough in the 2018/19 season to command a solid fee (likely in excess of £ 100million in that pre-covid climate), but not well enough to inspire United to a higher finish than sixth.

Yet he was marketable, a marquee Glazer signing of three summers earlier and favored by then boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Norwegian was attempting his own cultural reset of the club and saw Pogba, a homegrown player and naturally attacking in instinct, as part of his revolution.

Almost nothing has gone right for Pogba and United since, bar a decent patch of form after the lockdown in summer 2020. It’s quite the statistic that Pogba has scored just four league goals for the club since April 2020. The much-maligned Fred – who offers far more defensively and to the team than Pogba – has hit the same number just this season.

Pogba will leave United this summer with just Europa League and League Cup winners’ medals around his neck. He’s now 29 and, with his talent, should have been winning multiple league titles at club level.

But it’s not exactly Pogba to blame for this sorry series of events. The club and Solskjaer ought to have been brave enough to offload him in 2019 – although it’s easy to say that in hindsight, as United’s midfield was weak even back then. Pogba had been influential in France’s World Cup win in 2018 and hit a purple patch of form after Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho in early 2019.

But United got it wrong again in triggering the option for an extra year in Pogba’s contract, apparently to protect his resale value. They did not want to lose him for free when it became clear a new long-term contract was off the table. News flash: United will now lose him for free. Pogba and his agent Mino Raiola have both had enough of United.

“The season is not over yet, but almost because we do not have any more titles to play for,” Pogba said last month in another interview damning United’s failings. “I want to win titles, to play for something and this year and the last few years we haven’t won a title. It’s sad.”

Pogba’s whole time at United since 2016 has been rather sad. For all the goodwill, intentions and talent, both the player and the club have got it badly wrong in almost every way.

This latest sorry chapter at Old Trafford is just another reminder – not that United need it anymore – that it’s time to part ways.

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