Football/Soccer

Time Out: Pogba doc another example of disconnect between football and fans

Paul Pogba's second stint at Manchester United came to an end earlier this month, with his move to Juventus expected to be announced in the coming days. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

DO you ever find yourself in a place and wonder just how you got there? At the start of last week I ended up at an Iron Maiden gig. It wasn’t planned.

Until a couple of hours before I didn’t have a ticket, didn’t even know they were playing. Had you asked me for a quick run through of their vast back catalogue, I’d have struggled for more than three or four songs.

Enthusiasm levels weren’t particularly high leaving the house. Maiden on a Monday night, versus half watching something of no particular interest before passing out and eventually waking up at half one in the morning, drool seeping out the side of your mouth onto the sofa? Usually there would only be one winner.

By the time we got to Ormeau Park it was a sea of people stuck in time, and more than happy to be so.

Long hair flowed down to shoulders and onto backs, even when a double dip recession had wreaked irrevocable damage at the front. T-shirts older than eldest children were dusted down and paraded with pride.

In certain spots, the unmistakable bang of weed almost catapulted you straight into the Lagan. Pints in plastic containers were consumed as excitement grew, the faces of old friends picked out through the fog, warm embraces everywhere as paths crossed for the first time in too long.

It was hard not to be envious of their bonhomie. They had all left their cars at home and committed to their night out. Before, it wouldn’t even have been a question of how you got home, if indeed that was the case at all. For years it felt like barely a week would pass without a gig.

But I had driven down, collecting the friend with the tickets along the way.

Amid all the leather jackets laden with patches, the DM boots and the brilliant Iron Maiden album covers emblazoned across black tees wherever you turned, there I was hovering around the fringes - far from the mosh pit that might once have been pushed towards - in a Berghaus coat. A f**king Berghaus coat.

As shame washed over me in waves, a text arrived that shoveled insult onto injury. ‘Can you add bread to the shop?’ Eyes cast upwards to the heavens. Thick grey clouds loomed overhead - at least the Berghaus has a hood. I opened the Tesco app and added bread to the shop.

Meanwhile, in the seconds after Bruce Dickinson and the boys took to the stage, I noticed my partner in crime discreetly slip a pair of earbuds into place, fear of tinnitus stronger than Fear of the Dark.

When bassist Steve Harris kicked a nearby amplifier in the throes of their first song, I winced while a dutiful roar went up among those who had come to worship at this altar of rock. That Steve’s effort had been half-hearted in the first place told me he too was fearful of the potential repercussions on aging knees the following morning.

How had it come to this? When did we - I - get so… old? Just look at the sixty-something guy running about a stage on a Monday night, firing flames from his wrists, not one care for soaring gas prices. That’s what life is about! Carpe diem!

Sometimes you just need something – anything – to snap out of that malaise.

The Pogmentary, I’m sorry to say, is not what you need. For those feeling the funk, or already in danger of slipping into grumpy old git territory, there is no return ticket with this one.

At times it actually feels as though the sole purpose of its creation is to troll Roy Keane and Graeme Souness. I hope, for their own sakes, neither ever sees it.

Paul Pogba is expected to complete his return to Juventus in the coming days, having left Manchester United when his contract ended on June 1. For all the gnashing of teeth about the sorry state in which their club finds itself, few tears were shed among supporters when the flamboyant Frenchman bid au revoir to Old Trafford for a second time.

He came, he sauntered about, he left. In truth, it feels as though he never even arrived – the links to moves away beginning the day and hour he rejoined. Or at least that’s how it appeared as the circus perpetuated across the course of an excruciating six year process.

The five-part Pogmentary largely hones in on this time last year when the star of the show was mulling where his future lay. This could surely have been any summer, or any January for that matter.

In between conversations with his agent, the late Mino Raiola, and the odd snippet from lawyer Rafaela Pimenta, there are a fair amount of surly looks to the camera. A bit of dancing here and there too. And a lot of sitting in a chair in the middle of unnecessarily big rooms, musing on stuff, on one occasion about how much he enjoys days off (no sh*t).

It’s not all bad, of course. There are nice moments with his family, though there’s only so much anybody can watch other people eat. There’s also the odd bit of insight into the making of the man, a conversation with former France team-mate Blaise Matuidi adding some real-life perspective as the pair reflect on a journey that changed their lives.

Pogba is a bright, breezy soul, certainly not dislikeable when removed from the context of that for which he is known best. Unfortunately for him, the two are inextricably linked.

Too often The Pogmentary veers into the realms of complete self-indulgence (almost as bad as talking on about the time you went to an Iron Maiden concert). Call me old fashioned, but I’m always dubious about people who bring a camera crew along when they’re handing out stuff to homeless people. Even if his intentions are good, and there’s no reason to him, this moment feels crass because it is crass; hollow rather than heart-warming.

And that’s sort of how it all leaves you – empty. Football, and the love of the game, has been pushed down the pecking order as commercial and brand status rises in importance. It is a long-established trend by now, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.

Just imagine Roy Keane watching the conversation with fashion designer Stella McCartney about collaborating on a pair of vegan cleats.

People may shake their heads when Keane narrows his eyes and starts to howl at the moon about the direction the beautiful game has taken. Here comes the angry old man again.

Yet, after involuntarily harrumphing through the entirety of The Pogmentary – two-and-a-half hours of life I will never get back – it is hard not to share that disillusion, or the sense that the disconnect is widening.

Perhaps Paul Pogba was the right man at the wrong time - we’ll never know. Maybe the future will be more kind than the present. For too long, though, he has worn the weary look of someone who found himself in a place and is wondering just how he got there.

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Football/Soccer