Paul Pogba has been challenged by pundit and long-time critic Graeme Souness to “put his medals on the table” after the Frenchman claimed he “didn’t know” the Liverpool legend. But how do their medal collections compare?
Souness, who won numerous titles as the midfield lynchpin of the all-dominant Liverpool side of the 1980s, as well as abroad before becoming a distinguished manager in several different leagues, has been a consistent critic of the under-performing Man United man.
In a sensational counter punch, Pogba delivered a blow direct from the football putdown textbook when he claimed he “didn’t know” who Souness was when asked on a Manchester podcast.
“I didn’t even know who he was, really. I heard he was a great player and stuff like that. I know the face but (not) the name,” the French World Cup winner said.
“Like I said, I’m not someone that watches a lot of (punditry), I watch a lot of football but I don’t stay after the game to listen to what they say about ‘Why they did this’ or ‘Why they did that’. I like to focus on football.”
The apparent dig was labeled “below the belt” by Souness’ fellow pundit and Anfield hero Jamie Carragher on a recent Sky Sports podcast, but the wiley Souness wasn’t going to let perceived disrespect from the younger man go unpunished, wryly laughing off his comments before challenging Pogba to a medal-off.
“The oldest saying in football comes to mind, put your medals on the table, and I’ve got a big table!” Souness laughed, before changing the topic.
Although his comments may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, there is a case to be made for Pogba not knowing Souness, despite him being one of the most recognisable faces in punditry; Pogba was born in Paris in 1993, two years after Souness retired from playing, although the latter did go on to have a career in management and is well-known in England for his sports broadcasting work since retiring.
The argument looks likely to rage on, and Souness has already become an internet meme for his rants on Pogba, but how do English football’s most famous feuding pair match up?
DOMESTIC MEDAL COUNT
After leaving Manchester United, the club at which he had come through the youth ranks, for Juventus in 2010, Paul Pogba racked up four Scudetto titles with the Old Lady of Turin. He made it a Serie A and cup double in both 2015 and 2015 by winning the Coppa Italia and also bagging two Supercoppa Italiana wins.
Since returning to Old Trafford in a then-record £89 million deal, the 27-year-old has failed to live up to his price tag and faltered somewhat, winning only a minor domestic title with United when they won the EFL Cup in 2017.
Souness, on the other hand, was one of the best players in English football at the end of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, winning five league titles with Liverpool as part of Bob Paisley’s all-dominant Reds side, from 1979-84, as a well as three straight League Cups from 1982-84. In his home country, Souness also won the Scottish Premier Division title and Scottish League Cup with boyhood club Rangers.
The duo does share two domestic gongs. They both are owners of an FA Youth Cup winner’s medal, which Souness won as part of Tottenham Hotspur’s youth setup in 1970, and which Pogba won over four decades later as a young pro with United in 2011, as well as a Coppa Italia medal, which Souness won in 1985 with Sampdoria.
Although Pogba has had considerable success on the domestic and international stage, his performances in the biggest club competition in the world leave a lot to be desired; his sole appearance in a Champions League final came during Juventus’ injury-time loss to Barcelona in 2014.
Pogba’s only success in Europe came when winning the 2017 Europa League with Manchester United, scoring the opener in a 2-0 win over Ajax in the final. However, a victory in Europe’s second European contest isn’t going to make great waves when comparing elite medals.
His lack of clout on the European stage counts against him in a medal-off with Souness, who won a hat-trick of European Cups with Liverpool. His first came in 1978 with a win against Club Brugge, setting up Kenny Dalglish for the winning goal.
A second followed in 1981 against Real Madrid in the final, and the trio was completed with a victory against Roma in Rome in 1984, in which Souness scored a penalty in the final’s shootout to lift the trophy as captain.
The saving grace for Pogba is he will always have his 2018 World Cup winner’s medal that would take pride of place on any table. However, the midfielder’s contribution to the victory has been considered scant at best.
Despite getting his name on the scoresheet in the 4-2 final win over Croatia, his goal was neither the winner nor a game-changer, and ranks as his sole contribution to the side’s success in the tournament, having failed to register a single assist and benefitting from the presence of the tireless work rate of midfield partner N’Golo Kante.
Fellow final scorers Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezemann were rightfully afforded many more plaudits, likewise the emergence of defenders Benjamin Pavard and Samuel Umtiti.
Souness played for international minnows Scotland at three consecutive World Cups during his playing career at Argentina 1978, in Spain in ’82 and at Mexico ’86 but the Scots failed to make it out of the group stages.
Despite being one of the best midfielders his country has ever produced, Souness retired after the ’86 World Cup with a tally of 54 caps and four goals, Pogba certainly has the upper hand in this particular battle.
As players, no one would argue the two have polar opposite temperaments; Pogba has made his name as a mercurial passer of the ball and one of the brightest talents in European football, but his somewhat lacklustre performances at United have prompted critics from within his own camp.
Capable of brilliance at times and at other’s a seemingly luxury talent that the team cannot afford, Pogba has polarized fans by not fulfilling his undoubted potential nor living up to his weighty price tag and has been keener to concentrate on his brand and sponsorship, Instagram endeavours, trips to Dubai for extended ‘warm weather training’ as above the success of the club.
During his playing days, Souness was known as a tough-tackling, Herculean, hard-working midfield engine whose tireless work ethic would drag teams that extra yard needed to seal success on the field.
That competitive spirit did bubble over at times. He became known affectionately as “the glorious bastard” by Rangers fans during his time there for his sometimes outrageous tackles and hard man image. At Liverpool, he once broke the jaw of Dinamo București captain Lică Movilă during a European match at Anfield.
Some would argue his penchant for a bust-up has carried over to his broadcasting career and is the sole motivator for his digs at the Frenchman.
While Souness may be ridiculed by some fans and in the media for his sustained attacks on Pogba, his opinion undoubtedly holds weight on the subject, having achieved considerable success as an elite midfielder during his playing days with a considerable medal haul.
Despite his current standing in the game and his feats so far while still yet reach his prime, Pogba would do well to take heed of at least some of Souness’ criticism, given he now definitely knows who he is.