Richard Buxton: Pogba goes from revered to irrelevant
United's last two displays without their talisman justify midfielder's exclusion from starting XI
Hated, adored but never ignored - Manchester United's mantra no longer befits Paul Pogba.
The French midfielder's days of commanding a level of unconditional reverence that allowed him to rank superior to Jose Mourinho in Old Trafford's long-running battle of wills are officially at an end.
Where he was once cock of the walk at the Theatre of Dreams, answerable only to himself, Pogba currently resembles little more than an expensive feather duster.
The Red Devils' plans to wheel him out for a Champions League dead rubber reflects his descent into mortality.
Their Group H finale with Valencia tomorrow morning (Singapore time) has little riding on it, with United having already secured their place in next week's Round of 16 draw.
An expected outing at the Mestalla Stadium will bring Pogba's predicament full circle.
Spain's southern tip provided the backdrop to the start of his war of attrition with Mourinho.
It was there, 10 months ago, that the Portuguese omitted his record signing from the starting line-up for a Champions League knock-out encounter with Sevilla.
Injury meant that the Special One's decision proved a short-lived one, but the path for a collision course between the pair had already been long set.
Pogba did little to undermine Mourinho that night, yet appeared to spend large parts of this season attempting to make a power play to assert his importance over his manager.
Like Icarus, he soared too close to the sun and ultimately became burnt by bold ambition.
That lack of self-awareness has allowed the pendulum to swing back in the United dugout's favour.
So, too, has an upturn in results and performances.
Over their last two games, the 20-time champions of England have begun to live up to their former billing.
An increase in both creativity and basic industry, a perfect blend of church and state for United fans and Mourinho alike, has vindicated the France international's marginalisation.
Chances for Pogba to influence proceedings are becoming increasingly limited; he has spent three of the previous four games warming the bench.
Christmas is traditionally a time for giving, but the £89 million (S$154m) man has found little festive cheer in fleeting second-half cameos.
Mourinho is no stranger to engineering stand-offs with his talismans.
Eden Hazard found himself at odds with the two-time Champions League winner in his final months at Chelsea.
However, that is where the similarities between the Belgian and Pogba both start and end.
Hazard perennially appears on borrowed time in west London.
A dream move to Real Madrid remains the worst-kept secret in football and, eventually, he will outgrow Stamford Bridge.
Pogba, meanwhile, is yet to realise his true potential amid a slew of inconsistent showings.
What ideology of the 25-year-old embodying the "United way" has slowly faded into obscurity.
Without him, Mourinho has been able to execute his tactical master plan without mitigation.
In the mid-1970s, a relegation-threatened United were widely considered "too good to go down", yet still bowed out of the English top flight.
A history of grandiose could not mask the fact that the old rules no longer applied as Old Trafford, briefly, hosted a second-class club.
Pogba is no different to his employers' previous fate.
Winning the World Cup and commanding an eight-figure transfer fee do not render him immune from a similar scrutiny.
United are appearing far richer in his absence.