When Manchester United lost Paul Pogba, they will have done so with no little regret, but Christian Eriksen could be a superior player for them.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t the right move, for Pogba and the club. They might have left an offer of £300,000-a-week or so on the table in the hopes that the French international would ultimately take the deal.
For France as he won the World Cup, and at Juventus when he won Serie A, and again intermittently at Old Trafford he had shown his exceptional qualities. Technique, long-range passing, an eye for goal from distance plus confidence, he was everything that an increasingly prosaic United midfield needed.
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That was the Pogba that United needed, but for most of the half-decade he was at the club as a first team player he was, instead, a disappointment. He spent far too many months on the sidelines, injured.
Or on the bench, semi-excommunicated. On the pitch he never appeared to learn that when he put his foot on the ball and dithered in the Premier League, there were plenty of players willing to rob the ball from him.
He might have suffered from poor quality teammates, underwhelming coaches, and being played 20 yards to the right of his ideal position in midfield, but so what?
For a player of his talents, all these obstacles are not insurmountable, or at least they should not be. The player that United bought never materialised. To be fair to Pogba, the Manchester United he thought he had joined never came into being either. It was a colossal waste of time.
To lead the midfield in 2022-23, Erik ten Hag decided that Frenkie de Jong was his man. Known from his time at Ajax, and apparently for sale at Barcelona, United thought they could do a deal, but they couldn’t pull it off. Ultimately they secured Casemiro from Real Madrid and he looks set to be a valuable player for the next couple of years.
But before the Brazilian arrived, United picked up Eriksen. Secured on a free transfer, he has so far delivered much of what Pogba could not.
Eriksen’s technique might not be quite as exceptional when it comes to keeping the ball moving at close quarters and away from players with showboating skills, but he has the presence of mind to move it quicker. His passing range might be slightly smaller than the Frenchman, but he is more efficient and effective with his efforts over the course of a game. His assist against FC Sheriff helped his team to a win in Moldova, and there is little doubt that with Cristiano Ronaldo, Antony, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial all looking decent so far, that the experienced Dane might have arrived at a United team that finally lends itself to attacking play while, with Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane at the back, not falling apart at the back.
For now, Ten Hag and United finally look like they are headed in the right direction, but the club has been here before. They had Louis van Gaal and Champions League football, but then willingly suffocated themselves for all of their second year. They had Jose Mourinho and second place, and then provoked him into setting fire to the curtains as he lost faith in Ed Woodward. In retrospect, rightly so. They had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and a happy squad, and Ralf Rangnick and an attacking coach, and every time it dissolved with little to show for it.
Eriksen is eight games into his career with Manchester United and compared to Pogba’s United start, there’s not a huge deal to separate them. With all the variables there is not much point to draw direct comparisons, but there are some credible, if slight, reasons to think that Eriksen and Ten Hag will enjoy themselves more than Pogba and Mourinho ever really did at Old Trafford.
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