There’s been a lot of chat about Pogba’s future, but the longer this saga goes the more likely it seems he will stay with Manchester United — so what happens?
It was like the scene of some sort of dystopian soccer-scape of the future. With the mega-money signing of Matthijs de Ligt all but complete Juventus’ fans gathered outside the club’s training base began to openly worship not the player himself, but his agent, Mine Raiola. It served as an illustration of where the power increasingly lies in the modern game.
Indeed, Raiola, a man once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as “a s******,” is one of the so-called ‘super agents’ many see as the scourge of soccer. Juve fans don’t because he has over the years delivered so many top players to their club. De Ligt might not be the only superstar he carries to Turin this summer either.
Paul Pogba is the most prized thoroughbred in Raiola’s soccer stable. He helped sanction a move three years ago that saw the Frenchman become the world’s most expensive player after persuading him to leave Manchester United in the first place. Now, however, Pogba has grown restless in England, with Juventus reported to be keen on taking back the midfielder.
Real Madrid are the other interested party. In fact, they seem to be the most interested party, with Pogba a target for them before he even returned to Man Utd three years ago. Zinedine Zidane has more than once voiced his admiration for his countrymen raising the prospect of a switch to the Spanish capital. Some reports claim Real Madrid are even willing to clear out their squad to make room for Pogba.
Increasingly, though, it seems that Pogba will be a Man Utd player for at least another season. The summer transfer window closes in just a few weeks and to date no bid has been made for the player (at least according to widespread reports). Pre-season has already started and Pogba is preparing for the 2019/20 Premier League alongside his teammates, the same teammates he ended last season with.
How will Pogba react to not getting the move he so badly desired? And how will a club that fell out of love with its best outfield player welcome him back into the fold? At a critical juncture of his career, the Frenchman now faces a difficult situation that is largely of his own making.
United supporters, with good reason, for a long time made excuses for Pogba’s below par performances. They pointed out how Jose Mourinho played him out of position, asking him to do things he’d never been asked to do before. Indeed, the Portuguese coach for some reason saw Pogba as an anchor to play in front of the back four when he has always produced his best form as an attacking force.
France’s 2018 World Cup triumph, in which Pogba was a key figure, demonstrated to all that the ability was there, but rather than being a catalyst for his Man Utd career this actually started to send frustration to the surface. Supporters pondered why he could play near his best for his country, but not his club. By the end of last season Pogba was being openly heckled by his own fans.
Pogba, if he is to stay, has some making up to do. For one reason or another, United have never quite got the best of their record signing and the Frenchman, for all that various things have gone against him, but take some personal responsibility for that. Man Utd need Pogba to be the player, both on and off the field, that he was for France a year ago.
Some players are better at putting the disappointment of not getting a desired transfer behind them. Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance, maintained his superhuman level after being denied a switch to Real Madrid in the summer of 2008, eventually earning his move a year later. Eden Hazard did the same for years before eventually pitching up at the Santiago Bernabeu. Virgil Van Dijk, on the other hand, was made to train with the youth team after Southampton refused to sell him to Liverpool six months before they ultimately did.
It’s easy to make accusations of Pogba. He has played with a target on his back since returning to Man Utd three years ago. Some of the criticism has been unfair, some of it justified. But he now faces a career crossroads. That crossroads might not lead him to a new club, but how he comes to be defined will be determined by what happens this season.