For so long he was the one that got away. Paul Pogba was playing an integral role in the middle of the park for Juventus after quitting Old Trafford following a contract dispute.
The Italian side signed the Frenchman for nothing and watched on as he begun to deliver on the promise he’d always shown, playing in Champions League finals for the Old Lady whilst United struggled to consistently appear at Europe’s top table. Eventually they bit the bullet, shelling out a club record £89m to bring back a then 23-year-old Pogba.
The midfielder returned to much fan fare with the social media pun #Pogback doing the rounds as United lured the Frenchman despite the lack of Champions League football. Juventus revelled in an £89m profit having captured the midfielder for nothing. Little did we know they would see the best of Pogba with the Frenchman unable to consistently showcase the form he showed in Serie A.
Then Juventus chief Guissepe Marotta has confessed that Pogba’s signing and departure goes down as his best piece of business. He said in a DAZN film: “If we consider the outward and return journeys, how someone arrived and how it went, surely it has to be Pogba. He came for nothing and we sold him to the same club for 110m. It is an unusual thing, a unique thing in the world of football.”
A Juventus side minus Pogba would invest their millions in signing Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli and the Argentine scored in the semi-finals of the Champions League as the Bianconeri made another final in 2017. They would also claim the domestic double once more.
A failed move
In Manchester meanwhile the expectation and the reality did anything but add up. Pogba made his return in a 2-0 win over Southampton as he received a heroes welcome at Old Trafford. The Red Devils had hired Jose Mourinho and the Special One was buoyed by the arrival of Pogba.
He said at the time: “Paul is one of the best players in the world and will be a key part of the United team I want to build here for the future. He is quick, strong, scores goals and reads the game better than many players much older than he is.
“At 23, he has the chance to make that position his own here over many years. He is young and will continue to improve; he has the chance to be at the heart of this club for the next decade and beyond.” Very few of those comments would come to fruition.
A Manchester derby defeat four games into the season highlighted Pogba’s flaws at the base of midfield and those defects are still evident today with managers trying and failing to fit the midfielder into their starting XI. The Frenchman would do anything but make the position his own. He’s played at the base of midfield, as the playmaker and, eventually, as a wide forward.
Now, after six underwhelming years in Manchester, Pogba looks set to leave Old Trafford for nothing once his contract runs out in a matter of weeks. Talks over a new deal were shelved months ago with both parties resigned to his exit. The Pogba transfer is a microcosm of United in recent times.
The Red Devils will lose as much as Juventus gained from Pogba – £89m. It’s not even as if they have a bucket load of trophies to soften the blow. Two in fact, the last of which being the 2017 Europa League. Pogba scored in that final success against Ajax but has been unable to lead United to more silverware.
The frustrations about Pogba on the pitch have only been compounded by the drama off it. The player has constantly flirted with an Old Trafford exit, expressing his views in the media which have provided an unwanted distraction. In the summer of 2019 he spoke about possibly seeking a new challenge.
On the eve of a must win Champions League clash against RB Leipzig in 2020 Pogba’s then agent Mino Raiola spoke about his client’s time in Manchester being “up” with Juventus a possible destination for the midfielder.
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Pogba had been part of the Manchester side that won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 and, whilst tipped for big things, Sir Alex Ferguson was prepared to let him go, citing Raiola as a major issue. He’s seen said: “Paul Pogba? He just had a bad agent, a s*** bag.” Whilst he’s also said in his autobiography: “There are one or two football agents I simply do not like, and Mino Raiola is one of them.”
Pogba made seven appearances before United let him go on a free in 2012. Whilst there has never been any doubt over his talent and ability, the application of them has come in for heavy criticism. The player has been continually defended by his managers, although Jose Mourinho and he began to clash before the Special One’s sacking.
The impact of off field matters are hard to quantify but from a financial and a footballing stand point Pogba’s secondcoming in Manchester has been a failure. The soon may also be said of Ronaldo, although he has produced the goods on the pitch. United’s recruitment has long held them back and few are likely to reminisce on the Frenchman’s move with any great pride.