'Can I still pass? Am I still good?' Paul Pogba on battling back from injury and the secret to his thriving relationship with Bruno Fernandes
The Frenchman has endured a frustrating year after being plagued by an ankle injury – but alongside new partner Fernandes, the future looks bright for the talismanic midfielder ahead of a crucial match away at Crystal Palace, exclusively live on BT Sport tonight.
It’s been four years since Paul Pogba’s triumphant Manchester United homecoming – a move which cost a then-world record £89.3m – as he returned to Old Trafford.
Since then, the Frenchman’s domestic career has been dogged by inconsistency, injury and uncertainty, yet on the international stage he has flourished.
The 27-year-old was the heartbeat of his country’s 2018 World Cup-winning campaign in a deep-lying playmaker role, the lynchpin in a frighteningly young and talented team.
For club, Pogba has played in almost every role imaginable across the midfield; from Mezzala to enforcer, the No 10 to a No 8, even a deep-lying playmaker too - Pogba’s best role remains a mystery to many onlookers.
Fans’ mild annoyance at the Pogba puzzle turned to outward frustration during the current campaign as a struggling Man United, helmed by club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, spluttered and stumbled through the opening months of the season.
Unable to make any significant contribution during the stuttering start due to a long-term ankle injury, the former Juventus man return during the festive period only to suffer a different ankle injury that looked set to rule him out for the season.
Perhaps unfairly, his absence became synonymous with a lack of desire and a weakening culture permeating throughout the Red Devils.
Rumours of a potential departure began to gain traction in the press and, speaking exclusively to Owen Hargreaves ahead of the Crystal Palace showdown live on BT Sport, Pogba admitted he even began to question his own ability.
“You realise how much you love football and how much you missed it,” he explained.
“Coming back now, I don’t think about anything else but enjoying touching the ball, being back with the team. All the hard work, all the time you’re in the gym, you’re so impatient to get back and play.
“Sometimes you have days you feel very bad, kind of down. You miss football and you ask yourself ‘are you going to be back? Are you going to be in good shape? Am I still good? Can I still pass the ball? Can I still dribble?’
“You ask yourself so many questions in your head. When you finally get back and play, shooting on goal, it’s the best feeling. It feels so good.”
Since his return from injury, Pogba has struck up an impressive relationship with midfield comrade Bruno Fernandes, whose arrival from Sporting Lisbon in January has almost single-handedly turned United’s season around.
The Portuguese star has contributed seven goals and seven assists in eleven games, helping transform United’s attack back into the swashbuckling force they once were, while also elevating the performances of forwards Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and rising star Mason Greenwood.
And while the seamless birth of Pogba and Fernandes’ partnership appears effortless on the face of it, the Frenchman revealed he’d been studying his team-mate intensely during his spell on the side lines.
Last year I didn’t win any trophies and I felt empty
- Paul Pogba
“I had a lot of time off so I watched all the games,” the 27-year-old added in an interview available during our pre-match coverage.
“I try to learn. When Bruno arrived, I knew that I needed to understand him straight away. I didn’t want one month to adapt to his game so I watched him, watched his position, how he used the ball, what he’s good at so when I came back we could do well together.
“I understand him now so I don’t have to adapt. Now straight away I think, ‘I can make this run’ or ‘I know I have to pass him the ball there because he is dangerous there’.
“I try to analyse how he plays with the team, how to improve my positioning and stuff like that. It was a lesson when I was injured.”
For all the negativity that dogged the club late last year, United are into the business of the season not only with a chance of qualifying for the Champions League, but with a real chance of claiming some silverware too.
They are yet to resume their Europa League campaign - leading LASK 5-0 on aggregate in the round of 16 - but this weekend they play Chelsea in the semi-finals of the FA Cup – and Pogba is desperate not to end the season empty-handed once again.
“That’s what we are playing for, to win trophies. We know that we are still in two competitions and we want to win them,” he explained.
“We have important games so it’s not the time to relax. We want to win the last games in the Premier League, we want to win the FA Cup, we want to win the Europa League. We have goals.
“That’s what Manchester United is about. To win trophies. To compete, to win competitions. We always want more. Like I said before, last year I didn’t win any trophies and I felt empty. I felt like I missed something and I want it.
“I don’t like to have a year without trophies. I know it’s difficult but I want to win something – and we can do it, so let’s go for it!”
Watch more of the interview in the build up to Crystal Palace v Manchester United exclusively live on BT Sport 1HD and Ultimate from 7.30pm tonight.