The PFA released their Team of the Year for the 2018-19 season Thursday morning. As expected, the team is comprised of almost entirely Manchester City and Liverpool players. The one exception is the inclusion of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.
— PFA | Professional Footballers' Association (@PFA) April 25, 2019
Pogba’s inclusion has caused some loud criticism from several members of the media. That’s not unexpected, no player has faced more criticism this season than Pogba. But does that make him unworthy of a spot in the team? Hardly.
Paul Pogba in PFA team of the year. Seriously ?
— Ian Darke (@IanDarke) April 24, 2019
BBC Sport – Paul Pogba 'should not be close' to PFA Team of the Year https://t.co/mI3V7gTycL
— London City Airport Hotel (@LondonCityAirp2) April 25, 2019
List of midfield players who should have been in PFA XI ahead of Pogba – Moutinho, Sissoko, Doucouré, Wijnaldum, Maddison, David Silva, Kante. Could go on.
— Ian Darke (@IanDarke) April 25, 2019
Some of the loudest complaints are that Pogba is there while people like Eden Hazard or Son Heung-Min are not. Let’s make one thing clear, Pogba didn’t make the team “over” those two players. Both of them are forwards/wingers and this team is set up in a 4-3-3. Hazard and Son wouldn’t be playing central midfield. They didn’t make the team because Raheem Sterling and Sadio Mane got into the team over them.
Pogba has been derided by the media all season, most of the time for non-football related reasons. They don’t like his attitude. He enjoys the game and likes to be flashy. That rubs people the wrong way. We see it all the time in America when people get upset over NFL wide receivers who like to express themselves.
Throughout the season, the media has looked for reasons to criticize Pogba. When things were going well, they blamed him for quitting on Jose Mourinho. When things aren’t going well, they blame him for essentially not being Messi.
This desire to criticize Pogba at every turn came to a hilarious apex on Sky Sports following United’s derby loss to Manchester City Wednesday night.
Sky panel think young players like Jesse Lingard, 26, need better examples set by senior players like Paul Pogba, 26.
— Grace Robertson🧜♀️⚧♀️ (@GraceOnFootball) April 24, 2019
This inherent desire to criticise Paul Pogba at all costs could be seen on Sky last night after the game when the pundits suggested young players like Jesse Lingard need to be set a better example by senior players like Pogba. Lingard is exactly 3 months OLDER than Pogba…
— Sam Pilger (@sampilger) April 25, 2019
That’s how the media see Pogba, and if it were up to them, Pogba wouldn’t be anywhere near the team. (That’s why we have the PWA Team of the Year – where it is up to them!)
But it’s not up to them, the PFA Team of the Year is voted on by the players. It’s voted on by Pogba’s peers and the ones who have to play against him. They have an understanding of what’s going on in the dressing rooms. They have an understanding of Pogba’s impact on the field.
I see Pogba was voted into the team of the season by his fellow professionals. What do they know? Clearly spend far too much time on the football pitch and not enough on Twitter
— Matt Spiro (@mattspiro) April 25, 2019
Paul Pogba is a surprise choice in the PFA Best XI, but watching him and actually playing against him are two entirely different things. The players vote on who they've played against. He wouldn't be in my XI, but I respect that he's in theirs. #PFA #Pogba
— Arlo White (@arlowhite) April 25, 2019
The players know that Pogba has dragged Manchester United into a top four race that they had no business being in. In fact, it’s ridiculous that we’re even having this conversation about a midfielder who has 13 goals and nine assists this year, and been involved in more goals than any other midfielder. He’s in the midst of the best club season he’s ever had.
I’ll admit that his goal tally is heavily inflated by his seven penalties. If you remove his penalties, the only midfielder involved in more goals this year has been Christian Eriksen; and Eriksen being more deserving than Pogba is a valid argument.
Pogba and Eriksen have very similar numbers this season. It’s almost impossible to pick between the two of them. They’re both deserving and had Eriksen gotten in over Pogba, that would have been fine.
The knock on Pogba has been that he’s disappeared for too many stretches of the season. That’s a nice media driven narrative that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When Mourinho was here, he had Pogba playing in a much deeper defensive role. His job was to make the initial pass to spring the United attack. But in Mourinho’s very rigid structure, where players weren’t allowed to freely make runs, that pass wasn’t there.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over, he unleashed Pogba. Defensively, Pogba was the outlet. When United won the ball, they got it to Pogba so he could launch their counter attack. On the attack, Pogba had the freedom to run into the box where he was lethal.
That all changed when Ander Herrera went out with an injury. Since Herrera’s injury, Pogba has been forced to play a much more defensive role. Now he’s the one who wins the ball back, but there’s no outlet to spring the counter. On the attack, opponents know that United’s entire attack goes through Pogba. That’s why they’ve been man-marking and double teaming him.
Without Herrera being there to balance the midfield, taking Pogba out means you take out United. It’s not a coincidence that under Solskjaer, United’s goal difference with Ander Herrera was +19 and without him it’s -7. (Pogba has just three goals without Herrera, Marcus Rashford has one – all of them penalties).
Solskjaer has noticed this and has been tinkering with his team shape non-stop in an effort to free up Pogba. It hasn’t worked, and United have been in free fall ever since.
To the media, Pogba’s disappearance means he’s not trying. If he was, he’d still be scoring. The reality is he’s playing a much more defensive role that doesn’t allow him to attack and results in a lack of scoring.
Roy Keane can yell at Pogba until the cows come home. Keane may have had the “attitude” to play at Manchester United, but the truth is if he played today, he’d get run over. The game evolved over the last 10 years, and his skillset wouldn’t survive.
The media still fawns over Keane. The players know what Pogba does. They know what he’s done this season, they know what he’s capable of doing every time he steps on the pitch, and they’ve rewarded him accordingly.
Surely the wider point about Paul Pogba’s inclusion in the Team of the Year is that, a player who has scored 13 league goals and has 9 assists as a midfielder is considered to have had a bad season by a large number of people.
— Chris Winterburn (@cmwinterburn) April 25, 2019