Class, as the saying goes, is permanent. There didn’t appear to be a lot of options on for Paul Pogba when he picked up the ball in the right corner of the pitch adjacent to the Tottenham penalty area in the 80th minute. It was a blind alley that United had gone done several times earlier in the evening. Yet just seconds later, United were awarded the penalty that would earn them a point at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
After some rapid yet delicate footwork, Pogba manoeuvred the ball through an impossibly tight space between Eric Dier and the goal line to break into Tottenham’s penalty area. In his desperation to retrieve the situation, which no doubt had an undercurrent of humiliation after being beaten so effortlessly, Dier bundled Pogba over. Penalty to United, and Bruno Fernandes dispatched it with ease.
Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his sides first goal with teammate Paul Pogba of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 19, 2020
Image credit: Getty Images
Since his arrival at United in January, Fernandes has already established himself as a talismanic presence at the club. In his short run of games ahead of the suspension of football due to the coronavirus, all of United’s play had started to channel through him. As a result, United quickly gathered a momentum that peaked with a thrilling victory over Manchester City just before everything had to grind to a halt.
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During that period, Pogba had been the ghost at the feast. Up until his cameo tonight he had only played eight times for United in 2019-20, the last of which was as a substitute appearance against Newcastle United on Boxing Day. Persistent ankle problems have kept him out of action for almost the whole season, as Solskjaer’s team struggled before Christmas and then found a useful vein of form with the arrival of Fernandes. The conversation about Pogba at United was starting to be framed not around his eventual return but his eventual departure. Not for the first time, inflammatory statements to this effect from his agent Mino Raiola had not gone down well at Old Trafford.
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In March his transfer out of United was starting to look like an inevitability. Solskjaer had devised a functioning midfield without Pogba in it, and any fee generated from the sale of one of the best midfielders in the world offered huge opportunities for reshaping the team further. In football as in life, the coronavirus crisis may have disrupted indefinitely a scenario that looked certain in March. With no fans attending matches for the foreseeable future, schedules heavily disrupted and the potentially devastating economic impact of the crisis still to hit football, a transfer on the scale of the 27-year old Pogba to AN Other European super club now looks a lot less likely.
There is another enticing scenario now available. After the most disrupted season of his career to date, can Pogba possibly return to United’s midfield three full time, and showcase the full range of a talent that made United pay a world record transfer fee for him in 2016? He dovetailed so telepathically with Fernandes at points tonight that it offered a glimpse into a future rich with possibilities.
Both Fred and Scott McTominay have developed rapidly in Pogba’s absence too. With Marcus Rashford now back from injury, Anthony Martial back in form, Daniel James developing and Mason Greenwood pushing hard for a first team place, there are combinations available for Solskjaer in his front six that could keep their momentum from early 2020 running through the remainder of this season and beyond. Pogba can be still be central to all of that and fulfil his thrilling potential without having to leave Old Trafford.