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Paul Pogba ego takes a hit with Alexis Sanchez arrival at Manchester United

The perception is that Pogba’s importance to United is such that the team should be set up to allow him to be its key antagonist - which has not happened since Alexis Sanchez's arrival. (AFP)
LONDON: When Manchester United announced the long-teased recapture of Paul Pogba in August 2016, the Premier League club sought to maximize the marketing opportunity. Having successfully kept Pogba, the club and their principal sponsors in the headlines for majority of the summer window before formalising an initial €105 million ($129 million) transaction, United hyped the midfielder and the record transfer fee for all it was worth.
When Alexis Sanchez was spirited out of Manchester City’s grasp with the offer of financial terms on par with Pogba’s three weeks ago, the Old Trafford marketing machine powered through the gears again. “The announcement posts generated 75 percent more interactions than the announcement of the sale of the world’s most expensive player last summer,” executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward proudly informed shareholders.
Manchester United plc booked £581.2 million ($808.6 million) of revenue in the 2016-17 financial year. Some £275.5m of that derived from commercial income, the highest return of any Premier League club. In contrast to certain domestic and European rivals, all of that commercial revenue was self-generated; none of it dependent on cosy sponsorship arrangements with companies held by United’s owners.
Woodward’s marketing department is extremely good at what it does. There can, however, be unexpected repercussions to selling shirts, merchandise and assorted “global”, “regional”, “media & telecommunications” and “financial” partnerships by hyping and trading on the images of star acquisitions.
Back on the football pitch a partnership that should be generating goals for United has so far engendered strife. Of the four matches in which the earlier superstar signing has appeared, United have delivered two expected victories and suffered two worrying defeats. Critically, Pogba has spent a significant period of each game watching Sanchez from the bench.
The France international was rested for the FA Cup win at Yeovil, then substituted after 63 minutes in the defeat at Tottenham. Dropped from the starting line-up versus Huddersfield, Pogba played only the last 25 minutes. Reinstated for Sunday’s visit to Newcastle, he lasted 66 minutes before being removed from an underperforming team trying to recover a goal deficit.
A media debate has rumbled around him over tactics and the player’s capabilities. Prominent commentators like Graeme Souness argue that Pogba is unable to understand “the responsibility that comes with being a central midfielder.” “He plays like a schoolboy running after the ball in the playground,” was Souness’ most damning comment, in The Sunday Times.
When Wayne Rooney took the unusual step of advising an opposition manager on how best to use a key player, an amused Jose Mourinho responded to his former captain’s assessment that “Paul Pogba is a classic box-to-box player” who should be liberated of some defensive responsibility.
“This week I got a bit confused when some people say a box-to-box has to play free of defensive duties,” said Mourinho. “That is not box-to-box: That is a box in the box, and stay in that box, and doesn't move from that box. I think this country produced a lot of amazing box-to-box players — I had the pleasure to coach some of them - but I think nowadays with some pundits, some agents, some family members, I think the concept of the box-to-box is changing a little bit.
“When people ask what is the best position for Paul to play? Paul is a midfield player. Depends on the tactical system the team plays - he can play with two, he can play with one, he can play with three, but he will be always a midfield player. And it is difficult to find a midfield player with more potential than Paul has. Because Paul has everything."
Team Pogba agrees with Rooney. According to individuals familiar with the situation, the Frenchman wants to be played on the left-hand side of a midfield three with a third man charged with helping Nemanja Matic shield United's defence. The idea is to emulate the Juventus system in which Pogba's established himself as one of the game's most valuable players.
Ego lies at the core of the complaint. The perception is that Pogba's importance to United is such the team should be set up to allow him to be its key protagonist. Sanchez's signing is said to have piqued that ego, Pogba's representative initially making noises over reports that the new arrival was to be paid more than his client; the player himself discontent he's had to take on defensive duties to accommodate the new forward in the starting line-up.
Conscious of the need to protect a fragile back four, Mourinho emphasises the importance of positional diligence. He sees a footballer with the physical and technical potential to dominate a midfield and will continue to encourage Pogba to express that potential for the benefit of his team.
At this level of football, playing for yourself is a self-defeating exercise. No matter how your club markets you.

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