Paul Pogba is not Cristiano Ronaldo – so don’t treat him like he is 

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Depending on your information service, Paul Pogba is either agitating for a move to Real Madrid, or agitating to have his salary doubled at Manchester United. Either way, he is a problem that needs sorting.

And, without doubt, he has looked better under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Better, yes — but twice as good as the player Manchester United thought they had captured when he signed? 

Hardly. It could be argued we haven’t actually seen that player because Pogba was considered the type of midfield powerhouse who could propel United to the title under Jose Mourinho.

Paul Pogba's future at Manchester United is, once again, under growing scrutiny

Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United is, once again, under growing scrutiny 

As it stands, even with the Solskjaer-inspired resurgence, United are still in a fight to make it into the Champions League next season. And while it would be wrong to lay the blame solely at Pogba’s feet, equally, it does not sound like the level of return that merits an escalation to £460,000 a week.

That is the figure being mentioned to secure Pogba’s next contract, which probably means it is the figure he has been told he could earn with Real Madrid. Maybe he could get even more, if he publicly flirts with the idea of signing for longer at Old Trafford. He wouldn’t be the first.

Yet is he worth it? Does anything we have seen from Pogba so far suggest he should be rewarded in this way? He is having a good second half of the season.

Yet any Footballer of the Year shortlist would have to burn through a page or more of names before alighting on his. And for close to £2m each month isn’t that what Manchester United should be getting? The best. More influential than Virgil van Dijk, improving faster than Raheem Sterling, more valuable to his team than Eden Hazard. A player at the pinnacle of his game. Is that Pogba? Not yet, it isn’t.

Pogba scored twice at the weekend as United recorded a 2-1 victory over West Ham

Pogba scored twice at the weekend as United recorded a 2-1 victory over West Ham

It’s not Alexis Sanchez either, yet it is his salary that has set the benchmark for wages at Old Trafford, his arrival that sent the rest of the squad scuttling to their agents for renegotiations.

Yet Sanchez hasn’t proved worth his wage, so why should United feel compelled to make the same mistake twice? They cannot continue to be the club that is panicked into costly manoeuvres. Maybe it is time Ed Woodward tried calling a few bluffs 

If Real Madrid want Pogba, and Pogba’s people think he is a £460,000 player, then ask for a fee apposite to his status. Because Pogba isn’t Cristiano Ronaldo. When United lost Ronaldo they must have feared coming up against him in the Champions League again. 

And those fears proved correct. Ronaldo has won the Champions League four times since he left, Manchester United zero. Nor have they defeated Real Madrid in their three meetings since Ronaldo changed sides.

And in the two games he started, he scored. Is that what we could expect from Pogba in opposition? Would he change the dynamic at his new club? Would he leave United among Europe’s also-rans? 

He would have to be a different player to the one we have seen; one capable of the odd moment of devastation such as the killer passes against Tottenham and West Ham, but also periods of anonymity.

Pogba was excellent as Manchester United went on a record-breaking run that got Solskjaer his permanent gig, but he also played every minute as United lost four games in five against Arsenal, Barcelona and Wolves, twice. 

His prolific scoring run also came to an end until Saturday’s penalties. He last scored from open play on February 18, against Chelsea in the FA Cup.

Pogba improved under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's guidance but is he worth his wage demands?

Pogba improved under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s guidance but is he worth his wage demands?

And he’s an excellent player. Nothing here denies that. What must be judged is whether he is a player worth £460,000 a week to Manchester United, when there can be no guarantee he will not become detached or inconsistent, as certainly seemed to happen when Mourinho was in charge.

Since the talk of Madrid began — which Pogba has done little to discourage — it could even be argued his form has already suffered. 

It’s the biggest call of the summer: to keep Pogba happy or let him become Real Madrid’s latest expensive problem.

 Woods called on spirit of Seve

Seve Ballesteros hated being called the car-park champion. It was one of the reasons he took such pleasure in sticking it to America in the Ryder Cup. He thought the tag disrespectful. Actually, it was the opposite.

Ballesteros’s recovery from near the wheels of a black Ford Cortina at Royal Lytham in 1979 was the mark of a true champion. Golf is a game of yardages and precision. Most of the shots professionals play have been calculated and practised a thousand times.

It is what they do when out of this comfort zone that reveals their true nature. Ballesteros was a genius around a golf course; so is Tiger Woods. His putt on the ninth green at Augusta was the encapsulation of greatness. Like Ballesteros in the car park, the shot was the result of an error.

Tiger Woods won the Masters on Sunday for the fifth time in his phenomenal career

Tiger Woods won the Masters on Sunday for the fifth time in his phenomenal career

Woods hit to a dreadful part of the green, 80 feet shy of the pin, putting downhill across two level changes and a sideslope. Each time the ball rolled down towards another small plateau it would gather speed. It looked impossible to control. So this was not the type of putt any professional would have practised, because no professional would envisage ending up in such an alien corner. 

It would be like practising hacking out from underneath a gorse bush — or from the members’ car park. That stuff isn’t meant to happen. Nobody gave Woods a chance. It was a three-putt for sure. Woods hit it 12-foot. 

To clarify: the putt travelled much farther, but the momentum from Woods’s putter carried no more than 12 feet. Gravity did the rest. He left it as close as he could, without it dropping. And he played many holes more perfectly than the ninth; but it was what he did to escape from trouble, his improvisation, his feel, that set him apart. 

Nearly 20 years ago, I sat at the back of the 17th at St Andrews on the third day of the Open, to write a piece about the iconic Road hole and how the professionals dealt with this unique challenge. It was a bad idea.

Unless they were in trouble, most came in exactly the same way. Until in the final group, a ball arrived from an entirely different route, took a line that had yet to be explored and ended up just perfect. Tiger Woods.

Those moments of inspiration are when you see the man.

Barton’s a thug… who would’ve thought it? 

Let’s call it the Brexit effect. A treacherous path is chosen, sensible warnings are made against it, those warnings are proven accurate, but those who made the decision continue in denial of reality.

Think back to 2016. A no-deal Brexit was never on the agenda. ‘The free trade deal that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history,’ said Liam Fox. He didn’t mention crashing out as option one. Crashing out was not on the menu.

Now it is what this gaggle of incompetents want people to believe was voted for, rather than admit they got it wrong. That resigning from the EU was, as predicted, a precarious, complicated process. That it would leave the country poorer, and the poorest regions facing crisis.

Joey Barton faces allegations of serious assault after an incident with Barnsley's Daniel Stendel

Joey Barton faces allegations of serious assault after an incident with Barnsley’s Daniel Stendel

For the same reason Fleetwood Town are standing by Joey Barton, who is expected to be interviewed by South Yorkshire Police this week over an allegation of serious assault. Of course they are — to suspend or fail to support him pending investigation, would imply chairman Andy Pilley was completely wrong when he put his club in the stewardship of a violent thug.

And Pilley does not want to admit he was wrong, so he stands by his man, even though that man may have left Barnsley’s manager looking for his teeth in the tunnel.

Meanwhile, at Ipswich, fans are jubilant having been relegated to League One less than halfway through April. They have to be. 

Otherwise they must admit that, in the circumstances and given the budgetary restrictions, Mick McCarthy was doing a superb job keeping the club free of relegation trouble, and if the football was less than expansive, it was necessary to survive.

Instead, they made his life a misery and he quit. The managers that have succeeded him, Paul Hurst and Paul Lambert, have won a grand total of four games in all competitions this season.

McCarthy won more than that between August 5 and August 19, in his final campaign. He won 17 games in total before walking out, prematurely, with a 1-0 win over Barnsley. Yet to display unhappiness at an upcoming fixture list that may include trips to Scunthorpe and Rochdale next season would, in many cases, involve admitting being misguidedly harsh on McCarthy.

And in our post-truth, post-referendum age, that would never do. So no deal was always the aim, Barton is perfect for Fleetwood and McCarthy did a rotten job not getting Ipswich relegated.

Everybody’s happy.

Vunipola’s view can’t be a shock to England 

There is a film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that pretty much sums up our rosy take on minorities. Three drag queens head off on a tour of the Australian outback, encountering bigotry, homophobia and transphobia as they go. 

That is, of course, until they meet an Aborigine community, where they are welcomed and understood. You see, the Aborigines have experienced prejudice, too. They see through the painted exteriors, and recognise the humanity within.

Not at all like the real world then. The world in which Muslim parents are appalled that homosexuality remains part of sex education classes and, in 2013, over half the gay Jamaicans responding to a national survey said they had been the victims of homophobic violence.  

Billy Vunipola was warned for controversial social media comments in support of Israel Folau

Billy Vunipola was warned for controversial social media comments in support of Israel Folau

Perhaps this is why English society is so troubled by Billy Vunipola. 

We want the benefits of those with a Pacific Island heritage, because they have physical characteristics that are made for modern rugby; we just don’t want them to think or feel like Pacific Islanders, because that offends our sensibilities. That way we can keep our new colonialism palatable.

Israel Folau, born in New South Wales to Tongan parents, said some offensively unpleasant things about homosexuals going to hell. 

His view may be archaic and wrong, but these are not entirely uncommon beliefs among religious fundamentalists of various faiths. As he will not desist from speaking out, however, it may cost Folau his career. 

Vunipola, whose Tongan mother is also a Methodist minister, expressed his support, and has placed his career in jeopardy, too. Channel 4 have dropped him from promotional duties, and he will be summoned for questioning by the RFU. 

Strange that Vunipola’s reactionary prejudices appear to have taken his employers by surprise. Who would have imagined a player with Pacific Island blood, might hold views consistent with aspects of Christianity practiced in those territories? 

Israel Folau's comments about homosexuals going to hell is likely to cost him his career

Israel Folau’s comments about homosexuals going to hell is likely to cost him his career

Why couldn’t Vunipola just be built like them, but think like us? There’s a good boy.

Now, it could be argued that as Vunipola has lived his life in the west he should by now have embraced the progressive virtues of tolerance. 

Yet beliefs are a choice; culture is a choice. Just as it was our choice to adopt an Australian, with Pacific Island heritage and put him in an England shirt. 

And now we vilify him because he’s not like us?

Palace have wasted a season 

Once again, faced with superior opposition, Crystal Palace only tried to win the game having lost it. 

At Tottenham, they were 2-0 down before getting on the front foot late, and delivering several scares; against Manchester City, the same scoreline sparked life and Palace actually pulled a goal back before being caught by a counter-attack. 

Yet this isn’t a weak squad. It is potentially a match for any of the six teams above them in the Premier League table, yet too often they go out to play with minimum ambition.

Crystal Palace have had a wasted season with Roy Hodgson employing such cautious tactics

Crystal Palace have had a wasted season with Roy Hodgson employing such cautious tactics 

Leicester are seventh, but Palace have beaten them home and away this season. They have beaten Wolves away, too. If Palace lose Wilfried Zaha and Aaron Wan-Bissaka this summer, Roy Hodgson’s caution may be justifiable.

This season, however, has been a waste.

Going into Monday night’s fixture, the league table stated that Tottenham are as far off the top two as Leicester are away from the top six: 16 points. 

Whatever mitigations for two transfer windows passing without investment, it cannot be said to have worked.



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