Since announcing himself on football’s world stage, Paul Pogba has become a global icon in the sport.
The World Cup-winning Frenchman is revered as one of the best midfielders in the game currently after a stellar four years at Juventus before making a record-breaking £89million move to Manchester United.
His influence on and off the pitch has seen him become of the most recognisable and marketable players, earning him millions of fans in the process.
However, no matter how hard he tries, he can’t please everybody — especially when it comes to his harshest critic, Graeme Souness.
Following his trophy-laden career as Liverpool’s skipper in the late 70s and early 80s, Souness has carried on his no-nonsense approach from the pitch into the punditry studio and is often known for being very hard to please.
Since Pogba made his big-money return to Old Trafford, Souness has appeared to develop a fierce dislike of the Frenchman and has on more than one occasion lashed out at him. Finally this week, Pogba retaliated – sparking more furore from Souness as a result.
But what exactly has Souness had to say about Pogba? Here, Sportsmail has picked out the times when the Scottish pundit has taken aim at United’s star man.
United overpaid for Pogba
After making his return to United in August 2016, Pogba hogged the spotlight and his performances were often a big talking point given the Red Devils shelled out a record-breaking amount money to secure his signature.
Come the end of the 2016-17 campaign, United finished in the Europa League places in sixth while Pogba often drew criticism for the way he performed over the season.
Souness led the charge when it came to the criticism, insisting that United ‘had their trousers taken down paying £100m’ for the France international.
Souness said in May 2017: ‘United have to pay a premium. 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 £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.’
Pogba’s style of play
Just like his hairstyles and flashy persona, Pogba is known to incorporate a lot of flair when he takes to the pitch.
When deployed in the right system, Pogba can take the game by the scruff of the neck and dictate play in the centre of the park.
This was evident at Juventus when he played in a three-man midfield alongside the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Sami Khedira – while two men stayed anchored in midfield, Pogba was allowed the freedom to push up and turn the game on its head in Turin.
However, since making his move back to the north west of England, Pogba has struggled to replicate that same consistency that warranted such a huge price tag.
And following a Champions League game against Basle in September 2017, Souness labelled Pogba a ‘bit of a YouTuber’ before urging him to play more like Marouane Felliani and simplify his style of play.
Souness said: ‘I want to see Paul Pogba do what [Marouane] Fellaini does: pop it off nice and simple. 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?’
Three months later, Souness doubled down in his efforts to single Pogba out, claiming the Frenchman didn’t have ‘a basic understanding of his position’.
While he did initially praise Pogba for what skills he did possess, Souness couldn’t help but stick the knife in. He said: ‘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.’
Souness stood by these sentiments while writing his column for The Sunday Times later on in the season, comparing Pogba’s style of play to a ‘schoolboy running around in the playground’.
The Scot wrote: ‘When he’s asked to do a job centrally, he’s forever straying towards the ball. 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.’
While it has become a running joke among football fans for Souness to blast Pogba, Souness stands by his criticism by insisting that ‘he just needs instructions and sometimes a harsh word’.
However, it seems the former midfielder’s words of wisdom may have fallen on deaf ears after the midfielder made a costly mistake in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea in 2018.
A seething Souness suggested Pogba would never stop making mistakes if he didn’t change his attitude.
He said: ‘I think they’ve run out of patience with him, you cannot as a manager keep saying “this is what you need to do”.
‘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.’
Most recently, Souness took a swipe at Pogba’s mentality by claiming he would be a ‘doddle’ to play against.
He said: ‘Pogba has absolutely everything to be a top player – great athleticism, super technique – but his attitude to the game is the polar opposite of mine.
‘He goes out with one thought in his mind: “I’m going to show everyone how clever I am today and be the star of the show.”
‘My attitude, the way I was taught, was: “Go out and work harder than the guy you’re in against and see where that takes you.”
‘He’d be an absolute doddle to play against.’
Pogba’s commitment to United
Pogba’s homecoming at United hasn’t gone exactly to plan and while he has won a bit of silverware at the club, he hasn’t exactly lived up to expectation either.
With this in mind, Pogba has been linked with the exit at Old Trafford with Real Madrid heavily linked with a move for the 26-year-old in recent years.
Even a return to Juventus has been mooted and has often lead to fans using it as a reason to why Pogba may be underperforming in a United shirt.
Following the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan last summer, Souness once again took aim at Pogba by claiming he ‘wasn’t up for the fight’ at United.
Writing in The Times, Souness said: ‘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.
‘They’re as responsible as anybody for the predicament United are in, yet have effectively said to their team-mates: “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”.’
Pogba also risked the wrath of United fans’ fury when he was filmed dancing at his brother’s wedding while out injured.
Souness believed his actions showed that he simply doesn’t want to play for United and that Pogba would make a return to full fitness shortly before the now postponed European Championships.
He told his fellow pundits while 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?’
In contrast, Everton’s Andre Gomes made an astonishing recovery from a dislocated ankle, just three months after sustaining the injury back in November.
Souness added: ‘You’ve got Andre Gomes playing today, horrific ankle injury. 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.’
Souness also claimed United have done everything in their powers to help Pogba and have offered him an ‘olive branch’ – something that he didn’t pick up.
Pogba strikes back!
Earlier this week, Pogba said he is no longer bothered by criticism from pundits, such as Souness, because he has grown used to it. When talking about Souness he went even further claiming he did not who the three-time European Cup winner was.
The France international, who joined United from Italy’s Juventus in 2016, has made eight appearances in all competitions this season due to injury and last featured in the Premier League in a 4-1 win over Newcastle United on Boxing Day.
‘I guess they miss me,’ the 27-year-old told the club’s UTD Podcast, referring to the pundits.
‘I’m not someone that looks always at Sky Sports News. When you know football, you don’t need someone to tell you what’s happening.
‘If they want to speak, they are allowed to speak, it’s their job to speak. I am used to it now. I am really used to it, it doesn’t bother me.
‘I heard he [Souness] was a great player and stuff like that. I know the face but (not) the name.
‘I watch a lot of football but I don’t stay after the game to listen to what they say about why they did this or why they did that.’
Souness, who also won five league titles with Liverpool but unlike Pogba has never won a World Cup, responded to the Frenchman.
‘The oldest saying in football comes to mind: “Put your medals on the table”. I’ve got a big table,’ the 66-year-old told Sky Sports.
But… it’s not been all bad, right?
On the very rare occasion, Souness has shocked football fans by praising the man he loves to hate.
While you can pretty much count on one hand the amount of times Souness has complimented Pogba, it’s fair to say that his opinion of Pogba isn’t completely one-sided.
Following his World Cup triumph in Russia, Souness showed his softer side by claiming he had ‘definitely’ warmed to Pogba.
He admitted: ‘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 number one 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.’
Souness was also full of praise for Pogba after he came on to make an impact against Watford in December.
While the Hornets claimed a 2-0 win over the Red Devils, Souness was happy with how Pogba performed coming off the bench in the second half.
‘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.’