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Paul Pogba is steadily inching closer towards becoming Manchester United’s star

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Stop projecting your expectations of an £89 million ($110.65 million U.S.) midfielder onto him and start looking at what he’s doing.

Crystal Palace v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

The wonderful thing about criticizing a footballer's price tag is the versatility it allows. The traditional starting point is as general as possible, comparing the superheated market in footballers to what we might presumptuously assume to be the “real” world:

£89 million? For Paul Pogba? You could buy a small village in Hertfordshire. Or a small house in London. Or, like, 1/70th of an aircraft carrier. Should you want to. Or charity! Think what the RSPCA could do with that much money! Think about all the puppies you've murdered!

From there, we have options. We can kick off into the specifics of the subsequent performances:

£89 million? For Paul Pogba, playing like this? For a pass completion percentage in the 70s? For barely any pre-assists? For giving the ball away, then falling over? Why, I wouldn't pay more than, ooh, £50 million. £60 million tops.

We can take a comparative angle:

£89 million? For Paul Pogba? But that could have bought you Other Footballer A. Or Other Footballer B. Or both of them, even. And two players have to be better than one. A + B. That's just basic maths.

We can tilt at a certain moral superiority:

£89 million? For Paul Pogba? Sure, success can be bought. But will it ever mean as much? Really? Truly? Really?

And we can even get a little cynical:

£89 million? For Paul Pogba? Well, that just goes to show how much the game's gone, doesn't it? It's all about advertising these days. Presumably, Adidas is delighted. Presumably there's an official DAB Radio partner coming soon. Ticket prices gone up again, yeah?

And all such objections have at least a tiny grain of truth buried in there somewhere, for truly, price tags are the John O'Sheas of footballing snark.

What's odd, though, is that the fee sometimes gets flipped around onto the player themselves, as though Pogba's self-bestowed middle name was "I Am Worth Eighty Nine Million Pounds, That's Right, Me, And Just To Make The Point I've Spelled The Words Out." As though the fact that Ed Woodward couldn't negotiate his way out of a revolving door without buying it was somehow the player's responsibility. Patience is shortened for the super-expensive, and the pens are sharper.

It's understandable, perhaps. A big pile of money, a highly rated player, a delightfully antagonistic-to-all-the-right-people advertising campaign to go along with it: you'd want instant fireworks. But one of the irritating things about footballers is that sometimes, when they change teams, managers, systems, colleagues, and leagues, they need a bit of time to adjust, and everybody else needs to adjust to them. Particularly if they've had, say, an exhausting and ultimately unsuccessful international tournament the previous summer, and as a result completely missed preseason. There is no Royal Road to footballing integration and coherence, as Euclid once said. And he invented the passing triangle.

Still, while Pogba's performances have been steadily improving through the season, there's been a distinct lack of game-winning performances. Until now. For he was game-winningly excellent against Crystal Palace on Wednesday night: he bundled home the first goal, set up the second, and spent much the rest of the time barreling around the left and center of midfield, clipping beautiful passes to the feet of wasteful teammates, and generally looking like a player worth eighty-ni ... no, let's leave that.

Much of the time. One of the most interesting things about Pogba's time at Manchester United so far is how he's played, not in terms of the standard but the style. What he's trying to do. For a player who is representative of his time — as can be seen in the ease with which he navigates the swirls of hype and celebrity nonsense that surround modern football — he is, as a midfielder, slightly out of step. This may be changing as football gets more frenetic, but over the last few years the most valorized midfielders in the game have been the architects of possession football, those that keep the passing carousel clicking around. Creative vision allied to almost mechanical perfection.

In which context it was amusing to see Pogba, against Palace, miss one of his teammates with a pass, swear at himself, run back and regain possession, and then miss a completely different colleague. In that moment, he looked nothing like Xavi. He didn't even look much like Liam Miller.

But Pogba isn't trying to be Xavi; you can tell because he looks annoyed whenever he has to play a simple square ball. In a funny sort of way, he plays midfield as though he were a single-minded striker. Except, instead of trying to score from every possible angle he's trying to break the game open at every possible moment. Practically speaking, this manifests itself in all sorts of different ways: big booming passes from wing to wing, screaming crosses, long shots off either foot, backheels, no-look throughballs, stepovers, dummies, driving runs, reverse passes, inverse passes, perverse passes, and anything else that pops into his head.

And just as strikers miss most of the shots they take, so plenty of Pogba's clever ideas end up going wrong. Sometimes it just wasn't the right moment for a Cruyff turn. Sometimes he just cocks up the pass. But he keeps plugging away, lunging for brilliance. We can probably assume that this is down to both his own instincts and Jose Mourinho's instructions. If, say, Luke Shaw attempted some of Pogba's less inspired moments of inspiration, he'd end his United career as a decorative rug in Mourinho's office.

This means that there are always going to be those "oh, for eff's sake" moments, when the brilliant idea falls flat on its face. This means that the perfect, flawless Pogba performance — the kind of thing for one might expect to pay £89 million — may never arrive. The key, perhaps, is to understand all this not as a bug but a feature; as the price to be paid for those moments when he clips a disguised, perfectly weighted through ball over the top of a defense and Wayne Rooney ... well, misses the chance. So it goes.

Ultimately, Pogba may never be worth £89 million, whatever that means. And at times, when he sends another pass screeching past a friendly boot and into touch, he won't even look half of it. But if he can keep breaking games apart, then from a United perspective, he'll end up invaluable. Much more important for a footballer, and much more interesting for the rest of us.