·22. September 2023
·22. September 2023
Everybody in football knows that Graeme Souness isn’t Paul Pogba’s biggest fan and we’ve tracked this vendetta from its inauspicious beginnings to tired meme status.
After he re-signed for Manchester United in 2016, Pogba’s inconsistent output attracted the ire of many pundits and supporters, but it was Souness who became known for his frustrations with the midfielder.
And the 70-year-old is still taking shots at Pogba in 2023. We’ve potted the history of football’s most well-known grudge.
Souness got stuck into Pogba before he’d even kicked a ball after his £89million switch from Juventus – then a British transfer record.
“It’s not the poor lad’s decision, he didn’t decide how much was going to be spent on him, but I think £89million is way too much,” he said.
“For that money, you’re expecting to get the finished article. He’s a long way off from that. The strikers are the ones that normally go for big, big money because they’re the ones who decide the games, nine times out of 10.
“Pogba got 10 goals in 49 games last year. He will get some goals but he’s not going to be a Luis Suarez, who got over 50 goals for Barcelona last year. How many games is he single-handedly going to win you?
“I think the price they have paid for him is all out of sync. If you analyse it in that context, the price isn’t right. It’s way too much on him.”
Come the end of the 2016-17 campaign, United finished sixth, while Pogba often drew criticism for the way he performed over the season despite the club winning both the League Cup and Europa League.
“United have to pay a premium,” Souness said at the end of Pogba’s first season back at Old Trafford. “For United, stick 25 per cent on the price.
“Because it’s Man United and they have the money. In my opinion, they had their trousers taken down paying £100million.
“I’m yet to be convinced by that. He may be a player one day but right now as we sit here after one year in our football, I’m still waiting to be convinced.” We’re guessing he’s still waiting.
Following a Champions League game against Basel in September 2017, Souness urged Pogba to play more like Marouane Fellaini and simplify his style of play.
“I want to see Paul Pogba do what [Marouane] Fellaini does: pop it off nice and simple,” the former Liverpool and Scotland midfielder said.
“I’m not saying he [Fellaini] is a better option, what I’m saying is he’s a bigger threat – he’s more effective. He’s not easy on the eye, he’s a bit of a thug at times, which doesn’t make him a bad guy.
“That’s the question mark I have against him. He’s got technique. He’s a bit of a YouTuber, isn’t he?”
Three months later, Souness doubled down in his efforts to single Pogba out, claiming the Frenchman didn’t have ‘a basic understanding of his position’.
While he did initially praise Pogba for what skills he did possess, Souness couldn’t help but stick the knife in once again.
“When he is on the ball, there’s lots of things to admire,” he said. “He’s powerful, he’s got good technique, he can wrong-foot people, he can ping the ball.
“This isn’t me being an ex-Liverpool player caning a Man United player. I thought the same when he was a Juventus player. That is basic stuff you learn in the youth team. When is he gonna get it?
“He hasn’t taken a big game by the scruff of the neck and dominated it. He hasn’t got a basic understanding of his position, I can’t see that changing.”
After Pogba made a mistake in a match against Chelsea in 2018, Souness manfully resisted the urge to say ‘I told you so’ live on television.
‘I think they’ve run out of patience with him,” he did say. “You cannot as a manager keep saying “this is what you need to do”
“As Joe Fagan would say – the great Joe Fagan would say – “we’ll tell you once, we’ll tell you twice, and if you don’t get it you won’t be here very long”, and it was as brutal as that.
“I’m seen as his biggest critic but his manager is not happy with him. I’ve been a manager and I’m saying to myself, like Jose will be saying to himself, “what a player this boy could be if you would just listen and learn”.
“Even at 25 you never stop learning in this game. If this boy believes that he is the real deal at 25 then he won’t get any better.”
“I reckon Pogba’s only in the team to maintain his transfer value until United can sell him, because he doesn’t merit his place for any other reason,” Souness said in 2018.
“Perhaps we’re now seeing the selfish player Fergie didn’t fancy first time round?” Don’t sugercoat things on our account, Graeme.
Following France’s World Cup triumph in Russia, with Pogba playing an important role in midfield, “Souness showed his softer side by claiming he had definitely warmed to Pogba.
“I’ve been a critic of his back in the UK and I wouldn’t back off the things I’ve said about him while he’s been a Man United player, but I see a different Paul Pogba in this competition,” the Scotsman admitted.
“The number one criticism: He’s got a “fast forward” gear when he’s attacking and when he loses it he doesn’t sprint back as quickly as he does when he’s going to try and do things.
“I think he’s been more of a team player in this competition. But when you’re playing with Matuidi and the likes of Kante I think you’d be embarrassed if you didn’t put the same shift in as them.”
Perhaps this was Souness calling a ceasefire to his prolonged attack on Pogba? Sadly, it wouldn’t last.
Pretty much the most damaging thing a pundit can say about a player is to question their commitment and their desire, and they were things often levelled against Pogba during his time in Manchester.
“If I’m sitting in Manchester United’s dressing room today, I’m glad Romelu Lukaku has gone and don’t want Paul Pogba in there with me either if he’s not up for the fight ahead and is also keen to get away,” Souness said in August 2019.
“It’s just the cynic in me, I’m thinking Paul Pogba… I see him dancing at a wedding, I see him shooting hoops, and the cynic in me thinks he doesn’t want to be at United,” Souness said before United’s 1-1 draw at Everton in the 2019-20 season.
“How can you not want to play for Man United, if that’s the case?”
Souness went on to compare Pogba to Andre Gomes, who’d broken his ankle three months previously but played against United while Pogba was sidelined.
“Pogba has absolutely everything to be a top player – great athleticism, super technique – but his attitude to the game is the polar opposite of mine,” Souness said in a Q&A with The Times.
“He goes out with one thought in his mind: ‘I’m going to show everyone how clever I am today and be the star of the show.’
“He’d be an absolute doddle to play against.”
“I didn’t even know who he was, really,” Pogba told the United podcast when asked about Souness in 2020. “I heard he was a great player and stuff like that. I know the face but [not] the name.
“Like I said I’m not someone that watches a lot of [punditry], I watch a lot of football but I don’t stay after the game to listen to what they say about why they did this or why they did that. I like to focus on football.”
In reply, Souness said: “I’m happy with that. The oldest saying in football comes to mind: ‘Put your medals on the table.’ I’ve got a big table.”
Speaking on the Robbie Fowler Podcast at the start of 2021, Souness got to the crux of his belief: “My criticism of his was that he didn’t work hard enough for the cause and his team-mates. But you would not find me questioning his raw ability.
“He’s up there with anyone you want to name around today. I just want more from him. He’s that good, he can be the difference in most games; he’s got that much quality. It’s all about the work rate and what he was doing without the ball.”
Pogba started his final season at United in blazing form, providing four assists during the 5-1 win over Leeds at Old Trafford. Four assists, Paul? Four? That’s insane.
But Souness remained unmoved, claiming: “We expect that for a £100million man.” Tough crowd.
The famous #Pogback social media campaign run to announce the return of Pogba to the club he had quit as a teenager was a forerunner to a recurring theme during his time there.
His huge reach and popularity on social media raised questions over whether or not there were ulterior motives for signing the midfielder.
“If United are offering Paul Pogba a new contract, it’s surely only to recoup some of the £89 million they paid for him,” Souness said. “I’d question if you want him around your club with the people who appear to be advising him.
“All United’s rivals will want Pogba to stay this summer, which is an indictment in itself, and I often wonder if it’s more about Instagram followers than giving his heart and soul to his football.”
Appearing on the Second Captains podcast, Souness denied that he had been unfair to Pogba over the years before giving an explanation of his point of view. “He’s an extremely talented young man,” he said. “He should be one of the best midfielders in the world, but he’s lazy.
“If you remember how he used to take penalties. That was him wanting to be the star of the show for that period of time. If he’s lazy in matches he’ll be lazy in training and how can you get after the rest of them if you don’t get after him?”
Asked whether he thought his criticism of Pogba had been unfair, Souness replied bluntly: “Not for a nanosecond, no. He’s a lazy tw*t.”
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