Premier League: Paul Pogba is a very expensive square peg in a round hole

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Paul Pogba‘s return to Old Trafford was meant to be a statement of Manchester United’s ambition to rediscover past glories.

Far from feeling embarrassed at paying £89million for a midfielder who left for next to nothing, the United hierarchy saw Pogba’s fee as a symbol of the club’s spending power and ability to beat Real Madrid to the most expensive player on the planet.

He was a welcome gift for Jose Mourinho and a marker for United’s rivals after three years of mediocrity since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

We had the rap video with Stormzy to announce the Frenchman’s return from Juventus and the social media hashtag #pogback.

In the 20 months since, we have witnessed the colourful hairstyles, flamboyant dance routines, jewellery and even a personalised emoji. There is no question Pogba has style. What we have not seen, however, is enough substance on the pitch to justify the hype.

Far from being a gift to Mourinho, Pogba has become a distraction; an expensive square peg in a round hole who doesn’t meet his manager’s demands to play with discipline in the best interests of the team.

In his first season back at United, Pogba compensated for this through his understanding with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This season, however, Mourinho’s frustration with Pogba has become more apparent since the two were involved in a heated touchline exchange in the defeat by Tottenham at Wembley in January.

It is perhaps no coincidence that it followed United’s signing of Alexis Sanchez, with Pogba said to have had his nose put out of joint by the Chilean’s £600,000-a-week deal.

Ego has played a part and Mourinho is not alone in becoming exasperated by the Pogba sideshow; the dance moves, rehearsed handshakes and extensive use of social media. In December, Sportsmail revealed two of United’s support staff had been despatched to the player’s house in Hale Barns to get him out of bed after he failed to show up for training.

In seven out of 12 games since their exchange at Spurs, Pogba has either come off the bench, been replaced or not played at all, culminating in his early withdrawal from Sunday’s dismal defeat by West Bromwich.

In public, Mourinho responded to talk in France that Pogba was unhappy and assessing his future as ‘lies and bull****’.

In private, they held showdown talks and Mourinho laid down the law after the star said he wanted to play on the left of a new 4-3-3 formation, to give him more freedom.

Pogba missed the next game at Huddersfield with a mystery illness that did not stop him from training at Carrington the following day.

Mourinho turned to Scott McTominay as the 21-year-old emerges as a more reliable midfield partner for Nemanja Matic.

At first, the manager defended Pogba on the basis he missed two months of the season with a hamstring injury and a further three games when he was sent off at Arsenal in December.

But Mourinho has been less diplomatic in recent weeks after France coach Didier Deschamps confided Pogba could not be happy with his situation.

When asked to explain Pogba’s loss of form, Mourinho said: ‘Ask him what he thinks about it.’

After a man-of-the-match display in the Manchester derby, Mourinho urged Pogba to show more consistency in training and games. Instead, he witnessed another infuriatingly flaky performance against West Brom and took Pogba off in the 58th minute, saying he had been one of the ‘masters in complication’, trying to be too elaborate.

Mourinho maintains that his decision was influenced by Pogba’s yellow card in the first half, but it felt like a convenient excuse. On the other four occasions that Pogba was booked this season, he completed the game.

As United prepare to face Tottenham at Wembley again on Saturday, Mourinho’s relationship with Pogba is back under the microscope.

Will he play at Bournemouth on Wednesday night? Will he face Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final and what is now United’s last chance of a trophy this season?

And what of Pogba’s future at United after it emerged on Monday that he is the biggest name on a list of players Mourinho is ready to offload in the summer?

The manager could face opposition from United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, not least because the club already have to find two central midfielders to replace Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini.

Selling the likes of Matteo Darmian, Daley Blind, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw would be no surprise, Paul Pogba is another matter altogether.

It is not a scenario anyone envisaged when he walked back through the door to such a great fanfare.

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