Putting his inability to win an aerial duel without waving his arms around like a lunatic to one side, £89million man Paul Pogba, is beginning to silence his doubters with a series of match-winning performances at Old Trafford.
In Italy, Pogba was almost peerless as Serie A’s virtuoso young midfield maverick; a mercurial talent who – under the tutelage of Conte and Allegri (who knew better than to get on his bad side; we’re looking at you Fergie) – grew into an all-round midfielder capable of doing a bit of everything.
Paul pogba is a joke
— Dele (@dele_official) January 19, 2013
In the Premier League, however, Pogba has found an equal – and he’s three years younger, too. Dele Alli was still playing at MK Dons when Pogba took to the field for the Champions League final in 2015, but fast forward a year and both players are competing, not just for a European spot next year, but for the title of best young midfielder in England.
Given their respective football upbringings, it’s not surprising that Pogba looks like the more natural footballer: those surging diagonal passes, and the way he brings the ball under his spell so effortlessly, make him an eye-catching performer. Alli is less polished, but a much more prolific goalscorer, finding the net 11 times this season to Pogba’s six.
There are also physical differences which set them apart, as well. Both Pogba and Alli are tremendous athletes, but the latter is leaner and quicker across the ground. A boundless runner off the ball, he’s able to play in a midfield two as well as a three (Mourinho’s experiment with Pogba and Fellaini early in the season didn’t end well).
Paradoxically, Pogba tends to see more of the ball in the middle of the park; in fact, only Jordan Henderson has completed more Premier League passes than the Frenchman since the beginning of the season. Like Steven Gerrard – not surprisingly, one of his idols growing up – Alli is a decisive player who looks to play forward instead of simply retaining possession.
Most passes completed in the Premier League 2016/17:
Jordan Henderson (1,366)
Paul Pogba (1,015)
César Azpilicueta (969)
N'Golo Kanté (962) pic.twitter.com/bPO6fxxoK0
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 27, 2016
Asked if his midfield dynamo was a £50M player, Pochettino gave exactly the answer you would expect of a manager (especially a Tottenham manager).
“Yes [he is a £50m player], why not? Today Dele Alli is showing a quality, a talent that it’s difficult to find in Europe at 20 years old.”
But comparing the market valuation of Alli with that of Pogba raises an interesting debate.
Of the record-breaking transfer fees, Pogba was the first one in years who doesn’t play as a forward, doesn’t hit the sort of numbers you would usually associate with a monster price-tag. It was as much a statement of intent from United and Mourinho as anything else, but if Pogba is worth £89M then how much is Alli really worth?
Club partisanship aside, Alli is capable of winning more points because of his proficiency in front of goal. He’s also a more versatile player, with the physical profile – if not the tactical acumen (yet) – to play in a host of positions across the midfield. For those reasons, he has just a slightly higher ceiling than Pogba – and Levy can expect a bigger outlay when (not if) he moves him on.