Manchester United’s record signing Paul Pogba came in for some heavy criticism recently after his poor performance in his sides disappointing 2-0 defeat to Spurs at Wembley.
The France international’s lack of defensive and tactical discipline left huge spaces in between the lines of midfield and defence, which Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen gleefully exploited.
Pogba was subsequently benched for United’s next Premier League game against Huddersfield, and debate has raged ever since about exactly what type of midfielder the 24-year-old actually is.
However, speaking to the press ahead of United’s game away to Newcastle on Sunday, his manager Jose Mourinho admitted he has been left somewhat confused by the hype surrounding the issue when he said:
“I was laughing over the past week because I heard and watched, read a few things, and I’m not English but I think I understand English enough when you want to say box-to-box.
“But with some comments from some important people in football I got a little confused.
“For me box-to-box means box-to-box. You have to be good in this box and have to be good in that box.
“It means you have to defend well in this box, the physical condition and desire and stamina to go until the other box. In the other box you have to be good at scoring, creating, heading and so on.
“And when your team loses the ball you have to go to the other box. Now I’m confused when some people say box-to-box has to play free of defensive duties. That’s not a box-to-box. That’s a box in the box and stay in that box. Don’t move from that box!
“I think this country produced a lot of box-to-box players. I had the pleasure to coach some of them, but nowadays with some pundits, some agents, some family members, the concept of box-to-box is changing a little bit.
“It looks like we are going to a different concept. Box-to-box are not my words. I heard it for the first time in 2004 when I arrived. For me, with my Portuguese and trying to translate to the English I just think midfield players.
“For me Paul is a midfield player. He’s not a left back, he’s not a striker. When people ask his best position: he’s a midfield player. It depends on the tactical system but he will always be a midfielder.
“Then with so many opinions, and we are in a world of opinions, people can get confused. There is no confusion between me and Paul. It’s difficult to play a midfielder with more potential than Paul.”
Despite being left out of United’s last game Pogba did come on as a second-half substitute and performed well, so most observers expect to see him regain his place in the starting XI at St.James Park.
There is little doubt however, that Mourinho is yet to really find a system against top class opposition, that is able to maximise his club’s record signing’s talents, whilst at the same time covering his weaknesses.
Many point to the fact that Pogba would be more suited to playing in a midfield three than a traditional two, like he did during his time in Serie A with Juventus.