After years of criticism, Paul Pogba hit back at Graeme Souness this week and escalated the notorious feud between player and pundit.
The Manchester United midfielder declared that he had “heard he [Souness] was a great player and stuff like that”, but that he does not know who the three-time European Cup-winning Scot is.
This led to a headstrong outburst by Souness in which he called on the World Cup winner to “put his medals on the table”.
However, these recent developments only cap the history of animosity from the Liverpool great towards the former Juventus man.
Indeed, Souness’ first outspoken criticism came some three years ago and he has since blasted the 27-year-old for his actions both on and off the pitch – though there have been some rare moments of praise too.
The topics the Sky Sports pundit has taken issue with range from the £89m United paid for Pogba to his flamboyant style of play.
Without further ado, here is Mirror Football’s timeline of Souness’ most notorious criticisms of Pogba…
United’s “trousers taken down”
Souness first took issue with the price the Red Devils paid for Pogba in May 2017.
The £89m forked out to bring Pogba back to the club where he had come through the ranks as a youth player was then a world-record fee for a footballer.
And a challenging 2016-17 campaign in which United won the Europa League and League Cup but finished sixth in the Premier League led to the Frenchman’s performances being knocked at times – and Souness was among the most vocal critics.
“United have to pay a premium,” he said. “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 [near] £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.”
“A bit of a YouTuber”
Souness picked up in the 2017-18 season where he had left off in the previous campaign, this time criticising Pogba’s elaborate style of play of being style over substance.
While in Italy, Pogba had shown he could be a match-winner for Juventus and dominated the Serie A on occasions – but he had failed to convince Premier League fans that his skills and tricks could suit the English game.
And Souness claimed that Marouane Fellaini was a more effective option for United than Pogba after the latter limped off injured after 19 minutes against Basel in the Champions League in September 2017.
“I want to see Paul Pogba do what Fellaini does: pop it off nice and simple,” Souness 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? When he is on the ball, there's lots of things to admire. 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.”
“Like a schoolboy running after the ball in the playground”
"He will be absent"
Souness echoed his comments from the previous September in February 2018, writing in his Sunday Times column that “United simply cannot rely on Frenchman to do his job properly in central midfield against best teams”.
The Red Devils had been beaten 2-0 by Tottenham Hotspur two weeks previously in a match where Pogba was hauled off own 63 minutes and Souness blasted his performance as being immature.
“When he's asked to do a job centrally, he's forever straying towards the ball, he wrote. “A central midfielder should never be in areas wider than the penalty box, unless they are out there to confront danger defensively.
“When your side are in possession you should always be thinking: ‘If it breaks down, I'm out of the game.’ Pogba empties that central area far too readily. He will do something clever in the final third, but will be absent when his back four are under the cosh.”
The same day as Souness’ article was released, United were beaten 1-0 by Newcastle United.
“He's not being judged unfairly”
Souness reiterated his stance two months later, before United faced Arsenal, maintaining that Pogba could be “so much better”.
Speaking on Sky Sports, Souness said: “He's not being judged unfairly. The relationship with Jose Mourinho isn't perfect, if I was managing him I'd be frustrated. He can be so much better, he's got tons of ability, wonderful athleticism.
"He sees himself as a bit of a playmaker, I don't I see him as a 25-year-old at the peak of his fitness levels, he should be going box-to-box.
“He just needs instruction and sometimes a harsh word, I get frustrated for him. A little bit flamboyant for my taste but I accept that's the modern world.”
Pogba went on to score as the Red Devils beat the Gunners 2-1 at Old Trafford.
“I see a different Paul Pogba in this competition”
In a move which shocked fans, Souness heaped praise on Pogba after his dominant displays in the France midfield led Didier Deschamps’ men to World Cup glory in the summer of 2018.
He claimed that he had warmed to Pogba, adding: “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 No.1 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.”
“He has been offered olive branch and has not picked it up”
In September 2018, Souness noted how Pogba had been offered captaincy by Mourinho but followed this up by making unclear comments about the tension between himself and the manager.
“They have a very good group at United and they have had a difficult start,” Souness said on Sky Sports.
“These problems have been self-inflicted. When everyone is pulling in same direction they can win, when they're not it is bloody difficult.
"Pogba, saying what he did after being handed the captaincy – he has been offered olive branch and has not picked it up.”
“He just doesn't do the basics right”
2018 was a busy year for Souness and his interactions towards Pogba. This time, the Scot reverted to the norm, slamming him for losing his man during a corner against Chelsea and allowing Antonio Rudiger to score as the Red Devils were held by the Blues in October.
And Souness also pointed out that manager Jose Mourinho was also at the end of his tether with the Frenchman.
“I think they've run out of patience with him, you cannot as a manager keep saying ‘this is what you need to do’,” Souness said on Sky Sports.
“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.”
“He’s not up for the fight”
In August 2019 and ahead of the new season, Souness claimed that he would not want to be in the same dressing room as a wantaway Pogba – with Real Madrid swooping for the Frenchman.
“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 wrote in The Times.
"They’re as responsible as anybody for the predicament United are in, yet have effectively said to their teammates: ‘It’s everybody else’s fault.’ No, let’s get it right, lads, you’re part of the reason United are not in the Champions League this year.
"Real Madrid are looking to nick Pogba on the cheap because they’re suspicious of his form for United."
“He made a big difference for me”
However, Souness did praise Pogba once more following United’s defeat to Watford in December 2019 after the Frenchman came off the bench to show some intent that the Red Devils had been missing.
“It is as if when they [United] went 2-0 down they went, ‘oh this is a game for us’, and they found another gear and started to look threatening,' Souness said.
“And, are you ready for this… Pogba when he came on, he made a big difference for me. He actually started playing it forward, instead of side to side. He was a threat when he came on. But I think the rest of the season is going to be more of the same for United.”
“He doesn’t want to be at United”
Pogba has seen limited this season after struggling with ongoing ankle problems and illness, but he was once again in the spotlight after videos emerged of him dancing at his brother’s wedding.
Souness was shocked by the footage and said on Sky Sports: “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. How can you not want to play for Man United, if that’s the case?”
Souness contrast Pogba’s situation to that of Everton ’s Andre Gomes, who suffered a dislocated ankle but recovered within a number of months. “You’ve got Andre Gomes playing today, horrific ankle injury,” he added.
“Is it 14 bones in his… half the players out there today will be playing with something floating around in their ankle joint. It mystifies me, it really does.
“Maybe United should be looking at the medical staff here at Goodison, they got Gomes back in a fraction of the time for what would appear to be a far worse injury.”
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