Much has been made of Alex Ferguson’s decision to continually ignore what is, in many people’s minds, the biggest weakness in Manchester United’s squad: the lack of genuine class in central midfield. They have good options in there, but there is no bonafide star who can dominate a game from deep on a regular basis. Paul Scholes still has ability, but is understandably inconsistent in the twilight of his career, whilst few would place Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher in that top tier of midfielders.
The Paul Pogba saga, then, was an unpleasant and unfortunate ordeal. Here was a player with all of the tools to be that superstar United lacked in midfield, but they ended up losing him for €1m because they couldn’t agree a new contract with him and Juventus swooped him and gave him the contract he wanted. His recent exceptional performances for the reigning Scudetto champions must be a bitter pill for Fergie to swallow.
Football is plagued with youngsters who let the hype and success poison their minds – and that a 19-year-old player would demand a highly lucrative deal without establishing himself in the first team is indicative of the vast sums of money ruining the game. United rarely lose a youngster to another team if they don’t want him to go, but the young Frenchman made his mind up a long time ago that if he couldn’t get the contract he wanted at Old Trafford, he would go and get it elsewhere.
This was, though, a predicament that United unintentionally caused by themselves. Juventus were invited to be the opponents for Gary Neville’s testimonial in May 2011, and Pogba had put in a man-of-the-match performance for United’s U18s against Juve’s primavera side. Whilst it would be daft to presume that one of the major European clubs would be unaware of who the top youngsters are, the opportunity the Bianconeri to see first-hand just how good he was against the best they had seemed to get the ball rolling in this prolonged debacle.
Both parties have different recollections when it comes to explaining why he left.
I must admit, from the limited occasions I had seen Pogba play, mostly against Liverpool at youth or reserve level, he never particularly stood out; if you didn’t know who he was or how highly he was rated, you wouldn’t have even given him a second thought. There was nothing outstanding about him, and I figured that once he’d play against older players, the physical superiority that he enjoyed in his own age group would negate his strengths as a player. But I was wrong. Boy was I wrong.
When he arrived in Turin, he was clearly going to be behind MVP (Marchisio, Vidal and Pirlo) in the pecking order, then there was Kwadwo Asamoah, a summer signing from Udinese who has ended up playing as a left wing back in order to feature regularly. But with Juve also competing in Europe he got the chance to stake his claim for more regular football, and boy has he done it. His languid playing style and all around excellent game has already drawn comparisons to Patrick Vieira, and it won’t be long until Didier Deschamps and the French national team come calling, too.
His performance at home to Bologna was absolutely fantastic. He scored a header early on which was disallowed, then curled a lovely 25-yard left-footed effort off the bar. He saved his best for the second-half. Picking the ball up in the opposition half, he played a delightful pass in to the path of Emmanuele Giaccherini, who played the ball across to Fabio Quagliarella to tap home. Then, in stoppage time, with Juve desperately needing a goal, Sebastian Giovinco whipped in a cross which Pogba headed home, much to the delight of the home fans. Whilst he’s unlikely to supplant any of Juve’s usual midfield three, he has cemented himself as a valuable member of the squad.
Both parties have different recollections when it comes to explaining why he left. “I didn’t renew with them because I didn’t find a deal with Sir Alex Ferguson, so I decided to accept the offer from the one team that was really interested in me, that being Juventus, and now I am very happy to be here,” Pogba said on Wednesday after putting in a man-of-the-match display and scoring a late winner against Bologna.
Ferguson, however, saw things a little differently. “Pogba signed for Juventus a long time ago as far as we’re aware. It’s a bit disappointing because I don’t think he showed us any respect at all. To be honest, if they carry on that way, I’m quite happy that he’s away from me anyway.”
Either way, United are the clear losers in this scenario. They have lost one of the most talented youngsters in their squad - one who could have solved their midfield problems and saved them a whole lot of money in the process. Now they must watch on whilst he impresses in Italy, and no doubt matures in to an exceptional midfield player. You should have just paid the kid, Fergie!
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