At 25 years old, Paul Pogba should be approaching the peak of his powers for club and country. Physically imposing, with his vision and athleticism giving him the ability to dominate the middle third of the pitch, he should be the player that Jose Mourinho builds his team around at Old Trafford. But, instead, he makes the United team worse.
Neither Pogba nor Mourinho is blameless in a situation that has led to the midfielder's future being shrouded in doubt -- with Italian champions Juventus ready to take him back to Turin. Pogba has disengaged when it comes to his manager's demands, while Mourinho has not given his £89.3m signing the platform, or the team, that he needs to thrive.
Pogba (who was ranked No. 4 among midfielders in the ESPN FC 100) will infuriate his manager and teammates with his tactical indiscipline, but when he was deployed as a deep-lying midfielder at times during the second half of last season, it was never going to go well.
When Pogba was sidelined for nine weeks of last season with a hamstring injury between September and November, United missed his drive and creativity in midfield. It was the same against Manchester City at Old Trafford last December, when Pogba's suspension for a red card against Arsenal earlier that month denied Mourinho's team those crucial qualities in the derby -- won 2-1 by Pep Guardiola's men.
Pogba can stretch a game like no other United player; he can turn defence into attack with one 40-yard pass or rangy burst forward. Well ... he could 12 months ago, but we haven't seen much evidence of that for his club this season.
The defining images of Pogba this campaign have been of him losing possession, as he did on a regular basis in the 2-2 draw at Southampton, or of him jogging back to a defensive position after losing the ball in a dangerous area, like in the 1-1 draw against Wolves when his sloppy play led to Joao Moutinho scoring.
There have been the odd flashes of what he does best, such as his dominant two-goal performance against Young Boys in September, but such highlights have been thin on the ground.
A year ago, United felt Pogba's absence. Now, they are beginning to benefit from it.
He has the ability to be a great player in a good team, as his performances for Juventus and for France during the World Cup have shown, but in a poor team, such as Mourinho's Manchester United side, Pogba is a liability.
When United were buoyant and confident in the early months of Mourinho's reign, Pogba's qualities stood out and made the team stronger and more exciting. Similarly, Pogba shone when his friend Romelu Lukaku was in prolific form last season following a £90m arrival from Everton.
However, neither Pogba nor United has been the same since he suffered that hamstring injury in September last season. Mourinho made United a more defensive, less adventurous, side in Pogba's absence and the player has become almost incompatible with the team since.
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One prominent former United player told ESPN FC that Pogba's reputation exceeds his actual ability.
"He just plays for himself," he said. "I've never once seen him make a sacrifice for a teammate on the pitch. He needs top-quality players around him. He had that at Juventus and he stood out, but even in the World Cup with France, I don't think he was as good as people have suggested.
"If you watch the final against Croatia again, he was overrun by their midfield in the first half and only came good when they tired in the second half. You can get away with that when you have [N'Golo] Kante, [Antoine] Griezmann and [Kylian] Mbappe alongside you, but not when you play for this United team."
That appears to be the crux of the Pogba issue: He can elevate his performance when he has great players around him -- though most players would be better if they were surrounded by those at the peak of their game -- but struggles when he doesn't.
United's problem is that Pogba should be the player who lifts players who don't possess his natural talents. But he doesn't do that. Instead, he has allowed himself to be dragged down to the mediocrity of many of his teammates.
As former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness has identified on numerous occasions, Pogba's inability to "smell danger" on the pitch has turned him into a player that actually weakens United.
Ten years ago, Pogba would have been a sensation in the United team that won the Champions League -- the greats around him would have made sure of that. But now, he is just what Mourinho's side don't need.
It is why he has been dropped and why, if a big offer comes in for him in January or next summer, United should cut their losses and find a player who fits their current profile instead.