No footballer wants to see someone else in his place but that was the situation that Paul Pogba faced last weekend.
The French midfielder was named on the bench for Manchester United’s match against Huddersfield, with academy graduate Scott McTominay starting instead.
Pogba came off the bench to play 25 minutes but it was still enough to set all of the pundits off.
Ryan Giggs told Sky Sports this week that Jose Mourinho needs to play Pogba on the left of a midfield three, where he wouldn’t be tasked with the defensive responsibilities that come with playing in the centre.
Pogba played next to Nemanja Matic at the base of the midfield in Man United’s 2-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last month and the pair were repeatedly overran.
“One of the best games Pogba had was the Everton game [2-0 win on January 1], when he was on the left of Matic – in a similar position to the one he played at Juventus – and Ander Herrera was on the right,” Giggs said .
“I think that position where he’s on the left of a midfield three is where he’s at his best. He’s a brilliant crosser of the ball and I don’t think he’s as effective when he’s having to do more defensive work in central areas.”
Giggs wasn’t the only pundit to question Mourinho’s use of Pogba – Graeme Souness and Tony Cascarino weighed in, too.
And the Man United boss has hit back at the lot of them, saying that many pundits misunderstand the responsibilities of a box-to-box midfielder.
“In relation to best position I had a few laughs over the past week because I heard, I watch, I had a chance to read a few things and I’m not English but I think I understand English enough to understand what you want to say with box-to-box,” Mourinho said on Friday.
“But with some comments from important people in football I got a little bit confused.
“Because for me box-to-box means box-to-box and means you have to be good in this box, you have to be good in this road and good in that box. It means that you have to defend well in this box.
“You must have the physical condition, the desire, the intensity, the stamina to go into the other box. In the other box you have to be good: scoring, creating, heading and so on.
“Then when your team loses the ball you have to go into the other box. I think this is the meaning of box-to-box.
“This week I get a little bit confused when people say box to box player plays free of defensive duties. That’s not box-to-box. That’s box in box and stays in box. I got a bit confused.
“I think this country produced a lot of amazing box-to-box players. I had the pleasure to coach some of them but I think nowadays with some pundits, some agents, some family members, I think the concept of the box-to-box is changing a little bit.
“I think now it looks like we are going to a different concept of box-to-box. Box-to-box is not my word of course. I heard it for the first time in 2004 when I arrive.
“For me, with my Portuguese and trying just to translate into the English I just think midfield players and for me Paul is a midfield player.
“It’s not a left-back, it’s not a striker. So when people asked the best position for Paul to play. Paul is a midfield player, Paul is a midfield player.”