Can Paul Pogba continue his exponential rise to the top with Juventus?
With the January transfer window atypically slow-moving, speculation was inevitably rife when Paul Pogba announced that he still “loves Manchester United” and that he “would never speak ill” of the club that let him go to Juventus for just £800,000 in compensation back in 2012.
With United now tapping into their gigantic revenue streams in order to again become a major force in the transfer market, Pogba has emerged as a possible target to solve their seemingly endless search for a dynamic box-to-box midfielder who belongs with the elite of the game.
His Juve team-mates however believe they are wasting their time trying to undo such costly misjudgment and believe United are currently paying for their misjudgment, looking on green with envy as the Italian side reap the services of a supremely gifted footballer.
“For whatever reasons they chose not to give him a chance – and that is a mistake they will have to live with now,” said his midfield partner Andrea Pirlo while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has also spoken of his bemusement regarding how easily Pogba was allowed to leave. “We all asked ourselves, after seeing him train with us for the third or the fourth time, when he was still unknown, whether the people in Manchester couldn’t see very well,” he said.
Leaving Manchester United for Juventus has proven to be the right move for the Frenchman
Since seeing right-back Rafael picked ahead of him for a game against Blackburn in December 2011-which Pogba says was his cue to leave Old Trafford- the Frenchman has won 2 league titles with Juventus as well as 2 Coppa Italia trophies. He won the under-20 World Cup with his country in 2013, a tournament in which he was voted best player, before emerging with the seniors to earn 22 caps and a headline role in this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, where he won FIFA’s award for best young player.
“Young” is the significant word with Pogba. It is startling to be reminded of his 21 years when he is galloping through opposition midfields, brushing off all-comers and dancing past them with sublime technique, all measured with a stunning maturity that belies his raw age.
The youngest among this year’s list of Ballon d’Or nominations, he was described as “imperious” by the Guardian in last year’s rundown of the best young prospects in Europe and has won both Tuttosport’s Golden Boy and Guerin Sportivo’s Bravo awards in successive years. In the case of the latter, he became the first Juventus player to do so since Alessandro Del Piero in 1996.
Pogba certainly has the capacity to replicate Del Piero’s achievements in Turin but it is unclear if he will be with the Old Lady long enough to do so with manager Massimiliano Allegri admitting that an offer in the region of £75 million would be hard to reject and that “everybody has a price”.
With a handful of clubs around Europe, both able to afford that huge fee as well as subscribing to Allegri’s view that the midfielder could develop into the best in the world, it should not come as a surprise if Juventus, in a league that can no longer rival England and Spain in attracting the established stars of the game, were to see Pogba plucked away from their clutches.
The growing impact of Financial Fair Play means he will only be available to a select number of clubs but the Frenchman’s agent Mino Raiola says they will have to reach astronomical sums if they were to land the midfielder. “Paul is the most expensive player of them all. He would cost more than Messi and Ronaldo” he said. “In the world of football, few can afford to sign him. If Paul was in the market today, he would be the world’s most expensive footballer.”
Pogba signed a new five year deal to treble his £23,000 weekly wage as recently as October but Raiola has drummed up interest from the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and United by refusing to rule out a summer move for his client.
“There is a five-year deal with Juventus and what June and July brings, we will see in June and July”, he said, possibly assured that Juve’s struggles in Europe, having failed to go past the quarter-finals of the Champions League despite cantering to successive Serie A titles over the past 2 years, will see his party hold the aces in negotiations.
Pogba has been outstanding for Juventus this season
Nicknamed “Paul the Octopus” in Italy for his long, strapping legs that resemble tentacles when he is running, there are inevitable comparisons to former French powerhouse Patrick Vieira, who used supreme fitness to combine strong defensive qualities with a creative talent in attack.
Pogba, who has 6 goals and has averaged 1.5 created chances and 2.2 shots per game as well as 2.4 tackles per game for Juventus in Serie A, a rate just short of Chelsea’s destroyer Nemanja Matic to provide some context, shows what an all round force between both boxes the Frenchman is becoming as he grows into his fearsomely athletic 6ft 2 inch frame.
He was again superb in the weekend’s 2-0 win over Chievo, scoring a fine goal before having a role in the build-up to the second, also producing his own highlight-reel of skill as he toyed with Chievo’s hapless players who struggled to get the ball away from him.
A total of 25 chances created this season, together with the 47/66 dribbles he has completed which stands in excess of 70%, certainly conveys a likeliness to Vieira, to whom comparisons started as early as his debut in a Manchester United shirt as a 16 year old back in 2009.
Except the steam-train that charges his way from deep in his own half to the edge of the opposition penalty area, carrying the ball with poise and elegance and is marked by a distinctive gold streak in the middle of his hair, is now in the black and white of Juventus and not the red of Manchester United.
It is unlikely he will ever end up back there, but a long-term future for the Old Lady doesn’t seem to be on the cards either. Allegri’s message to Juventus’ fans over the 21-year-old’s fate is clear; “?For now, let’s just enjoy having him.”