A Barcelona move seemed all but certain for a time this year, but it appears all bets are off as the midfielder’s agent, Mino Raiola, drums up a bidding war ahead of the summer.
What had started out as a scramble quickly appeared a one-horse race; for a while this summer, it seemed inevitable that Paul Pogba would join Barcelona. The Catalan club despatched negotiators to Turin on a couple of occasions, aiming to reach an agreement withJuventus and bring the world’s most sought-after young midfielder back with them.
Pogba had talked up Barca and Lionel Messi – you don’t do that if Real Madrid are a potential future employer – but the presidential elections at Camp Nou, coupled with the club’s transfer ban, always suggested all was not quite as it seemed. Joan Laporta, the hopeful candidate, pushed the Pogba narrative as Josep Maria Bartomeu, the incumbent president, tried to keep up with public opinion.
After weeks of endless transfer talk, Bartomeu won the election and the story stopped dead. Pogba was handed Juventus’ iconic No.10 shirt. All bets were off (and, by the way, Juve had no interest in accepting any bids).
Manchester City, and many other clubs no doubt, had elected to take a watching brief as all this played out. The club were interested in Pogba as far back as his final days at United, although the midfielder has since claimed that Patrick Vieira, at the time City’s Football Development Executive, had advised him to move to Turin.
The Frenchman has quickly blossomed into one of Europe’s finest midfielders, and City’s interest, of course, will not have diminished over those three years. This spring, as the club planned for life after Yaya Toure, who was mulling a move to Inter, City were made aware of Pogba’s personal demands. They were prepared to meet them, should he have become available.
But talk of that Barca move ramped up, particularly in the build-up to their clash with Juve in June’s Champions League final. Toure, in the meantime, had decided to stay on. City seriously considered Jack Wilshere as a midfield target, before moving on to Fabian Delph, the England international available for £8 million. City moved on with their big-money recruitment drive.
The smoke and mirrors act has resumed in recent weeks. Mino Raiola, Pogba’s seasoned agent, has claimed that three clubs, from England, Spain and Germany, had offers worth €85m rejected by Juve in the summer.
Raiola has put rival interest firmly into the frame once again.
“We’ll see what Barca’s project is, and what Paul’s project is,” he said. “All doors are open to all clubs.” He has name-checked Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich (and specifically Pep Guardiola, which is a whole other can of worms where City are concerned). At the start of November he even appeared to rule out a move to Camp Nou after all.
You would imagine it will not be long before Real Madrid are linked with a move again, now Florentino Perez is coming under increasing pressure at the Santiago Bernabeu. It is said, however, that los Blancos are not big fans of Raiola. It may not have helped when he said back in March: “Real Madrid are a club that is used to buying players like you buy a facecloth, and then throws them away like a facecloth.”
Quite apart from what Raiola may want for his client’s future, Juventus will not be in any rush to do a deal. With the European Championship set to take place in France, it would be foolish to reach any agreement before Pogba has the chance to show what he can do at a major international tournament.
If €85m was not enough this year, imagine what the Old Lady could demand after a big summer with his country. An auction would prove to be very profitable.
City, then, are bound to crop up in discussions in the coming months. Not least because, as one of Europe’s richest clubs, it suits both Juve and Raiola for them to be seen to be at the table, even if they’re not.
The Blues, though, are clearly looking to bolster their squad with big-money, big-name signings. They spent around £150m on Raheem Sterling, Nicolas Otamendi and Kevin De Bruyne last summer, and that’s not expected to be the end of the squad overhaul. If Pogba is available, like the Guardiola and Lionel Messi situations, it is only logical that they would be interested.
There are several other interesting factors in play. Pogba’s image rights – a little like Cristiano Ronaldo’s – are owned by a third party; the midfielder’s former agent Walid Tanazefti. In his role as a recruiter at Le Havre, Tanazefti discovered Pogba in 2000 and signed him up to his first senior club. He then turned agent and took his brightest talent to Old Trafford.
Having joined forces with Raiola later down the line, Tanazefti was given control of Pogba’s rights last year by the player himself. Pogba and Raiola, however, now want them back. It could mean a buying club is obliged to shell out an extra €15m, as reported by the French press earlier this year, if they want to make any money from the Pogba brand over the length of his contract. Or the player and his former advisor could settle it in court. It is a murky episode.
Meanwhile, Pogba’s family still lives in England. His brother, Mathias, plays for Scottish Premiership club Partick Thistle and his mother, along with her friends, remains in Manchester. Pogba is, to all intents and purposes, a Manchester lad. He finished his education in the area and was often spotted wearing his United club tracksuit around Sale.
Like Real Madrid, United is seen – currently, at least – as an unlikely destination given previous events. But could City turn his head?