Social media is an amazing tool for sports. Twitter allows for instant reactions, enabling fanbases of all clubs to unite, or clash, in one giant community. Increasingly, video is proving a critical part of the interaction: Twitter video and Vine, which was popular until its demise. But the impact of video clips has undoubtedly had an impact on the football bubble. Not always in a positive way.
Twitter announced recently that Vine wasn’t long for survival, and would be shut down unless it is sold. This might be a blessing and a curse. Sections of the football community has become remarkably short sighted in recent years; a world where the game is increasingly short-termist, and a brilliant performance can be forgotten by a loss or draw in the following game. It is a community in which a simple six-second video is used to reinforce assumptions about players’ performances.
[blockquote who=”Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport” cite=””]Paul Pogba vs West Ham:
87% pass accuracy
3 aerial duels
2 chances created
Playing for a mid table side.[/blockquote]
No surprise that Paul Pogba should suffer for this mentality. The Frenchman’s world record transfer to Manchester United has been the subject of serious scrutiny, perhaps more than any player in recent memory. It is part of the pressure that comes with signing for the world’s biggest club – a status that enables hate, envy, jealousy and intense rivalry. Pogba is at the epicentre.
Critics of the French superstar have often label him a “vine merchant” – a context that is part of the problem the player faces. Fans form opinions based on short clips and social media interaction.
Premier League viewing figures are down globally, an indicator that the masses no longer have endless time to watch all the weekend’s games. For some, the focus is on the weekend’s biggest games, or just their own team. Despite wall-to-wall coverage, most fans don’t get full scope of a player’s true performance.
This is where social media comes to the fore. Pogba’s first touch for United, in his second spell at the club, has come to define his early days back in Manchester. The lack of ‘Vineable’ highlights, goals or assists in early games became a weapon for Pogba’s critics; evidence that proved he was struggling, even though statistics offered a contrary viewpoint.
The narrative around the midfielder’s opening period at Old Trafford was defined by this context, both United fans and neutrals, those defending or on the attack heard about his lack of “dabs” and series of haircuts, rather Pogba’s actual performance. Statistics told a very different story of Pogba’s first few months at the club though.
- WhoScored Rating: 7.63 (8th Overall, 1st amongst midfielders)
- Aerial Contests Won: 3.1 per game (24th Overall)
- Man of the Match: 3 (3rd – (Tied) Overall)
- Shots Per Game: 3.1 (9th Overall)
- Dribbled Past (by an attacker): 0.9 per game (5th best amongst midfielders)
- Key Passes: 1.9 per game (17th Overall, 3rd amongst midfielders)
- Completed Dribbles: 2.8 per game (7th Overall, 1st amongst midfielders)
- Long Pass Completed: 4.6 per game (9th amongst midfielders)
Indeed, Pogba’s numbers are very good for a player supposedly not living up to his price tag or “under performing.” The notion doesn’t really hold. Yet, the power of the narrative created by social media is overwhelming. The Frenchman has actually completed more passes in the final third than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues, with over 200 completed and counting. Until his teammates start capitalising on his creation, Pogba may not get the credit he truly deserves.
The Frenchman’s displays are also improving by the week, as his understanding with his partners such as Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick is evolving. Even without Carrick during United’s match against West Ham United, Pogba and Herrera were as dominant as a three man midfield on their own, controlling the middle of the park with ease.
United’s has not boasted true strength in central midfield for some time, with Paul Scholes and Carrick making do with what they had, often carrying a load far too many others. In recent times Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin, Anderson, Bastian Schweinsteiger and others have not met the high standards of the past.
Pogba and Herrera suggest a new era of midfield dominance on the red side of Manchester. The Spaniard screens the defence well, pressing hard and winning the ball high up the pitch or deep in his own half, before shuttling it forward to Pogba or his close friend Juan Mata.
It is a more important observation than the pithy variety on social media. The detractors and trolls of the Vine generation shouldn’t fool you. And Pogba is just warming up at United. It’s great news for a club in need of a new edge.