Paul Pogba can enjoy World Cup glory, then return to lead Man United
On Wednesday in Los Angeles, by the trophy-filled museum of the UCLA Bruins' sports teams, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will hold his first press conference of the preseason ahead of his side's friendly against Mexico's Club America in Phoenix the following day.
The presser should provide insight into Mourinho's thinking. If he grumbles about not getting the players that he wants, it will not bode well; if he is smiling and happy with his players and delighted after so many performed well at the World Cup, it will. That success is bittersweet for United, though; they would rather have a full squad in the United States, but many will miss the tour after their exertions in Russia.
Among those expected to be absent is Paul Pogba, who became the first active United player to score in a World Cup final -- and only the fourth to win the trophy -- when he netted in France's 4-2 win vs. Croatia on Sunday.
It was during a Mourinho press conference in Shanghai two years ago that he hinted Pogba would be signed from Juventus. Two seasons on, he is expected to be the main man at Old Trafford after an exceptional tournament for his country, who he also helped reach the final of Euro 2016.
Pogba was a star in his time with Juve and won four consecutive Serie A titles, though he could frustrate his teammates, directors and fans with his idiosyncrasies and struggled at times to fit into the team's system, which led to criticism from the media and pundits. Yet his ability meant he was indulged and it was accepted that he would use his own style within limits.
He has not had the same success at United, nor been as influential; he might be the best player, but has not featured prominently when player-of-the-year voting has come around. Although a different type of player, he should be as influential as midfield predecessors Roy Keane and Bryan Robson, but 9/10 one week and 6/10 the next is more like Juan Sebastian Veron.
Standards are higher at United and Pogba needs to be more consistent, though there are many mitigating circumstances. At Juventus, he played in a winning machine. At his current club, that machine is still being built; Nemanja Matic was the right addition behind him -- a safety blanket who offered protection -- but other players have yet to find their best form.
Moreover, Pogba's relationship with Mourinho has been bumpy in 2018. While not so unhappy as Anthony Martial, Pogba was often stymied by the way his manager set United up to play. It is important for the pair to work out their differences and doing so will help them both.
It has been a theme in recent weeks for fans to criticise former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness for his frequent constructive criticism of the French international, but what the three-time European Cup winning midfielder said was not without reason: Pogba should have done better.
Pogba can be as exhilarating as the long-range pass he played for Kylian Mbappe in the second half on Sunday, while the two-goal display in April's Manchester derby, which set up a win that stopped Man City clinching the league title, was one of his finest.
But he is also deeply frustrating at times. In January, he was wretched against Tottenham at Wembley, and four months later vs. Chelsea at the same venue he missed a sitter with his head in the FA Cup final. Flashes of brilliance are not enough and United simply have not had their money's worth for the £89.3 million signing. There is still time, though, for the 25-year-old.
After returning to Old Trafford in 2016, Pogba went straight into first-team action without a proper preseason. He will not have one this season either but, when he does return, he needs to fall in love with United and lead his club as he has his country.
Given the absence of Pogba and others, perhaps it is fortunate that United's schedule during the opening two months could be tougher. Tottenham at home on Aug. 27 appears to be the most challenging game, but United have a good record in the fixture, while Spurs had even more players in the final stages in Russia.
Any transfer business in the current window must be concluded by Aug. 9, and United do intend to buy and sell while also re-introducing World Cup participants, including Pogba and new signing Fred, into the squad. The Premier League season kicks off the following day when Leicester visit Old Trafford.