Not even three years removed, Manchester United are still lamenting the departure of Paul Pogba.
It’s that time of the year. No, I’m not referring to the January transfer window, though it is also that time, regrettably. And no, I’m not talking about Oscar season, although I hear the hipsterclan of Wes Anderson enthusiasts finally broke through the velvet Indonesian curtains this year. Forget about that stuff, because it’s officially the time of the year when Paul Pogba begins to play really well, and Manchester United begins circling him like a jilted ex-lover. I know, time flies. Though it happens every year, this time, Pogba’s potential buying price is at a vomit-inducing high. And next year, the price will be even higher. For a player with Pogba’s ceiling, it’s a trend of inflation that won’t likely end for another five or six years. According to reputable Italian paper La Stampa, United are ready to offer £61 million to Juventus for Pogba, who they let go for free in 2012.
To be fair, United did present Pogba with a contract back in 2012, though it was for less than the £40k-per-week the Frenchman wanted. Pogba swiftly declined and ventured off to Turin, where he’s become the Prix du Jour of Italian football. His YouTube catalog has greatly expanded in that time, along with his trophy cabinet. In addition to his two Scudettos and two Coppa Italias with Juve, he’s been stacking his checks with France too. He captained the U-20s to the 2013 U-20 World Cup, winning the tournament’s Golden Ball in the process; and also nabbed the 2014 World Cup Best Young Player award. With every passing year, it’s as if he reveals a brand new shiny thorn made solely to pierce into the side of Manchester United’s pride.
Yes, it can fun to poke at United’s woes being that they’re the undisputed Evil Empire of British football. But can anyone blame them for not caving to Pogba’s demands? Probably not, but maybe. If one was so wholly convinced from 2009-12 that Pogba was the heir apparent to the entire Class of ‘92, then yes, one would be perturbed. But the at-the-time, 18-year-old was asking for quite an exorbitant salary considering he had only ever made three appearances for the first-team. £40k was a ridiculous request. Although maybe just ridiculous enough that United should’ve at least considered it. And we’re seeing why right now: the kid has become a footballing monster. So, how evident was this potential progression back then when he was a blooming whippersnapper at Carrington? Going by the video evidence — which is obviously just a fraction of the total package — it appears pretty evident. But still, £40k-per-week, 18-years-old, three appearances.
Pogba’s career has been littered with nefarious transfers going back to his early days in France. The player and his family have been accused of foregoing existing contracts ahead of each of his moves from Torcy-to-Le Havre and later from Le Havre-to-Manchester United. This series of switches, while damning to Pogba, hardly places any of the participatory clubs in a pleasant light either, particularly United, whose bullish tactics could be viewed as either status-quo or wildly uncouth. Still, United were cleared of any wrong-doing in the situation by FIFA, for however much that’s worth.
It’s hard to tell what exactly United needs today, because, well, the list seems to be quite obscure rather than long. They need defensive help, yes. They don’t exactly need any more elite bodies up-front with the presence of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and Radamel Falcao all clogging the penalty area (though Rooney has been played much deeper this season and Falcao may not stay beyond his loan period). Angel di Maria and Juan Mata both fulfill the creative gap, while Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini, and Ander Herrera make up a quality midfield. But the fact remains that Louis van Gaal has still yet to figure out his best eleven top-to-bottom despite having a wealth of talent — sans-defense — to select from.
So is there a place for Pogba at United? Of course there is, but not because there’s necessarily a void in van Gaal’s side. The issues at Old Trafford will only really be solved with an entire summer overhaul; not a player overhaul as much as a complete resetting of order. It’s up to van Gaal, not an incoming player, to do that. Sure they could use Pogba, but so could every other club on the planet.
Whomever does win the love of the highlight-do’d highlight reel that is Pogba will have obtained perhaps the most prized asset available in world football for the next decade. (And I’m not particularly worried about any ducking hyperbole in that statement.) The Juve midfielder has met the astronomical challenge of premature anointment with great vigor and pure professionalism. He’s not a player who seems to need motivation or leading or boundaries. At 21-years-old, he’s not only passing into the realm of world class, he’s making a case that belongs at the realm’s apex. And the scary part isn’t that he’s already learnt more than most players ten years his senior; it’s that he’s only learnt a portion of what he will over the next five-plus years.
Late yesterday, it was reported that Chelsea are also vying for the Frenchman, willing to perhaps shell out £40 million-plus-players for his services. The circus is only getting started too. Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Paris St. Germain are also said to be interested, as they should be. There’s simply too much alchemy in those two boots, too many eager club owners, and too many prying reporters out there for this to conclude quietly. May the stakes be sweeped heavily and with extreme prejudice.