Special case? Paul Pogba needs to be special to merit that

Special case? Manchester United’s Paul Pogba needs to be special to merit that

  • Paul Pogba won’t try to justify the £89million Manchester United spent on him
  • Pogba isn’t interested in the significant changes facing United this summer
  • Boxing promoters know how to make their event seem like centre of the universe
  • Aleksander Ceferin made a very starling conclusion about the Nations League
  • US Open venue Pebble Beach is a bucket list of a course – it was breathtaking  

Paul Pogba is looking for a new challenge. No, he won’t try to justify the £89million Manchester United spent on him three years ago. He wants a challenge, not mission impossible.

Pogba’s challenge echoes that of many players, not least Romelu Lukaku. It is the challenge of screwing more money out of another elite club, the challenge of racking up higher wages and a sizeable signing-on fee, the challenge of a lighter workload in an easier league.

He doesn’t fancy trying to restore Manchester United to the pinnacle of English football next season, or even the top four. He’s not up for balancing Thursday night fixtures in Europe with domestic consistency, or helping shape a new team under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, maybe even as captain.

Paul Pogba isn’t interested in trying to justify the £89million Manchester United spent on him

The draw for the first round of the Carabao Cup will take place at Morrison’s supermarket in Colindale, with Ray Parlour, on Thursday. Of course it will.

These are all significant challenges, but Pogba isn’t interested.

And he has already pulled off one impressive challenge. That of fooling some of the people, most of the time.

Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward, for instance. If, as is believed, United are willing to increase Pogba’s wage to close on £500,000 a week, deception is one challenge he has mastered.

United came sixth last season, won nothing again, tailed off at a crucial stage and ended in uproar, losing at home to relegated Cardiff City. How can one of the leading protagonists in an underwhelming campaign merit an annual pay rise of £10m?

If United were thinking straight, Pogba’s assessment of his form would be considered delusional. They would call in the shrinks, not the accountants.

‘After everything that happened, with my season being my best season as well, I think it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else,’ Pogba told reporters in Japan.

The 26-year-old French midfielder’s problem has long been a belief in his own publicity

Best season? Well, given his form in previous campaigns, that really isn’t saying much. It’s like being considered the most appealing candidate in the battle for the Conservative leadership, or the most intellectually rigorous contestant on Love Island.

It’s fishing in a pretty murky pool.

Pogba has been nothing like an £89m player since coming to Manchester United. And now, having at last shown glimpses of potential, he wants to leave?

Pogba’s problem has long been a belief in his own publicity. His fellow professionals put him in the PFA team of the season last year, but that was as much an accident of timing as an endorsement. The votes are cast early, at a stage in the season coinciding with Pogba’s peak during Solskjaer’s honeymoon period.

Had the voting taken place after the campaign ended, it is unlikely he would have made the starting XI. He certainly wouldn’t have featured strongly in the two proper teams of the English season — Manchester City and Liverpool.

Pogba was inside the Premier League’s top 10 for goals (13) and assists (nine) — yet more than half of his goals were penalties and his passing success rate did not place him among the Premier League’s top 80, which is unhelpful for the creative midfield force at one of the best clubs in the country. So numbers do not tell the whole story.

Pogba played the most wonderful long pass to set up the goal that beat Tottenham at Wembley — yet in too many of United’s other matches against elite opposition he was ineffectual and his work rate was often poor. Pogba wants to be made a special case, but then he needs to be special.

More than half of Pogba’s goals this season were penalties – numbers don’t tell the whole story

All that makes him stand out in the wider context is his ability to create trouble for Manchester United. This latest controversy has blown up on a personal promotional trip east for adidas. United may well ask what’s in it for them.

If reports of the asking price are accurate, £133m. Yet there is little chance Real Madrid will pay that, or much like it. More plausible is that Pogba will become a gigantic pest this summer, in an attempt to try United’s patience and leave at a reduced rate.

This is a familiar strategy, one that often works. If United put an improved offer before Pogba and he turns them down, they will know what the closed season holds. The challenge will be all theirs, preventing Pogba capping his ‘best’ campaign by utterly derailing theirs.


In the bubble that exists around major sports, it is possible to imagine you are invested in something huge. Boxing, in particular, is brilliant at that. The hoopla around Tyson Fury’s fight in Las Vegas was captivating and promoters are masters at making their event seem like the centre of the universe. Yet in Monterey — which can be reached from Vegas in little more time than it takes to fly London to Manchester — we couldn’t find it anywhere. 

Even the sports bar voted the city’s best 16 years in a row offered nothing. So, reduced to viewing on a mobile phone, perhaps some of the nuances of Fury’s performance passed us by. Yet, these eyes, and those of the others watching, saw a boxer who moved very well and did his job swiftly and efficiently and an opponent who was out of his class and at times little more than a straight man. 

And while Fury’s showmanship is not in doubt, any show worth seeing — certainly any show worth paying for — usually lasts longer than five minutes, unless Usain Bolt is involved. If he fights Deontay Wilder, it’s interesting. Until then, there’s better on the other channels.

The hoopla around Tyson Fury’s fight against Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas was captivating


Not long ago, the lunacy of a third-place play-off at the UEFA Nations League finals was highlighted in this column. Not everyone felt negatively about it. The players earn lots of money, they can be worked until they keel from exhaustion, argued some.

Had they not qualified, England would still be playing two matches at this stage of the season in European Championship qualifiers, argued others — ignoring that a qualifier is a necessary game and a third-place play off is not.

Anyway, having watched a tired, goalless 90 minutes, followed by a lifeless blank of 30 minutes, plus a penalty shoot-out that redefined the concept of pointlessness, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has reached the startling conclusion that it was a colossal waste of time and should be scrapped.

‘Players are tired,’ he said, as if these were circumstances that could not be foreseen. ‘It’s the end of the season, they want a vacation, they are not fully focused.’

It is not the players that need focus, mind, but UEFA. They need to be focused on less stupidity in future. Slim chance of that as, with his next breath, Ceferin once again attempted to justify having the Europa League climax in Baku. He used the well-rehearsed, stunningly foolish logic, that if two Azerbaijani teams had reached a final at Wembley, there would not have been the same level of complaint. As if this could realistically happen.

Aleksander Ceferin concluded that the Nations League third place play-off was a waste of time

Last season, four teams from Azerbaijan were involved in the Europa League — three entered in the first qualifying round and exited it, too, while Qarabag made the group stage, where they came bottom — goal difference minus 11. After July 19, there was no possibility of an all-Azerbaijani final.

Indeed, since the Europa League was founded, in season 2009-10, only once have two Azerbaijani clubs progressed to the group stage. Both finished bottom of their groups, meaning the chances of thousands of Azerbaijani football fanatics proving UEFA’s point by remaining cheerful in the face of an inconvenient trip to Wembley, is a scenario as likely to be tested as a Champions League final that doubles up as the Bristol derby.

‘Whenever we have complaints, you don’t help yourself in your popularity within European football with that,’ added Ceferin, like it was a threat.

In other words, dumbly accept every dumb decision made by dumb UEFA officials or we won’t like you. Tell you what, chump, we’ll live with it.


My dad had never been to Anfield. I used to tell him how great it was, particularly on European nights. I said I’d take him if the chance arose and got tickets for a Champions League group game one Tuesday, against Besiktas. You might recall the date: September 11, 2001.

We heard about the attacks half way up the M6, news worsening with every bulletin. There was wild speculation about planes heading towards London, too. Amazingly, European games went ahead. Dad experienced Anfield, but not the way I had hoped. It was the quietest, flattest atmosphere I have known inside a football ground.

No one wanted to be there — not the teams, not the fans, not us, really. Everyone’s thoughts were elsewhere. Dad still said he loved it, but he’s a polite man. He must have known it wasn’t the same.

We build up these places, these cathedrals of sport, in our minds, sometimes unreasonably. When I told people how excited I was to be covering a golf tournament at Pebble Beach, I was surprised by some of the reactions. A few folk said I would be let down.

Popular US Open venue Pebble Beach is a bucket list of a course — it was breathtaking

‘It’s four great holes and the rest are ordinary,’ I was told. Having been there now, I’d say it’s the opposite. Four ordinary holes and the rest are astonishing. If they’re not on the Pacific Ocean, there is usually a view of it. I walked the full 18 on Thursday afternoon and it was breathtaking, no matter the leaden skies that have been a fixture these last five days.

It’s a bucket list of a course, even for a player like Tiger Woods, who must have been there a hundred times, but would still occasionally just pause to look around.

It is wonderful partnership, too. Not just the great occasion, but a great location, the geography of the California coastline as much part of the drama as the golf itself.

As for Dad, he won’t get to Pebble Beach, but he returned to Anfield on August 17, 2017. Liverpool 4 Arsenal 0. It’s fair to say he’s seen it now.


Luis Suarez may have been in denial after biting Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup, as he claims, but his countrymen did not need to be. In the aftermath of that incident, Oscar Tabarez — Uruguay’s coach and a figure previously worthy of respect — made a scattergun, 13-minute denunciation of FIFA and, in particular, the English press and was applauded from the room by his country’s journalists.

Suarez has now made Tabarez and many compatriots look like fools, by admitting what was known all along. He did it and he knew he did it. This is what happens if unquestioning cheerleaders take over the national media. No checks, no balances.

Judgement, and a lot else, goes out of the window.

Luis Suarez admitted what was known all along after biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup


If you thought cries of ‘geddinahole’ were annoying, wait until golf’s new idiocy seeps into your consciousness. Having reported from three major tournaments in America this summer, I have noticed a new breed of gallery tee-side shouter. The Random.

For a Random, ‘geddinahole’ is too commonplace. If every loudmouth is shouting it and on every hole, how will anyone know when its your loud mouth taking its turn? Thanks to social media and reality television these oafs are evermore convinced that they need to be heard all the time, that their contribution is important and no event is complete without them.

Their need to be personally identified is greater than ever, too. For the Random, this is all about making his — and it is always him, never her — voice audible to the people who are watching at home. He plans in advance, alights on a keyword or phrase and then informs his buddies of his intentions.

There is a new breed of gallery tee-side shouter at the golf – known as The Random

‘Listen out for me. I’ll be the one who shouts ‘Yabbadabbadoo’ at the seventh.’ Or ‘Holy Moly’, or ‘shut the door’ because you could hear them all at Pebble Beach and a thousand other meaningless catchphrases, a permanent idiot clamour, increasingly mistimed as alcohol took its toll on the hardy remaining brain cells.

Still, if all the unfunniest people in the world are gathered in one place, at least someone, somewhere, should be laughing. Their wives, probably.

Harry Maguire’s destination of choice this summer is Manchester City. He should be under no illusions, though, about the exacting standards of the coach. Costly mistakes earned John Stones an arm around the shoulder and the steadfast support of England manager Gareth Southgate. Pep Guardiola witnessed the same and dropped him. As good as he is, Maguire will need to raise his game.

Harry Maguire will need to raise his game if he plays for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City

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