The Frenchman’s agent always said if his client left Juventus it would be for a “top club” – so why has he joined a side that can’t even offer Champions League football?
Mino Raiola is well suited to his profession. The so-called ‘super-agent’ is a shrewd reader of the transfer market and has a flair for hyperbole. In January of last year, he boldly proclaimed of Paul Pogba, “He will break Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer record because there can be only one Mona Lisa.”
Whether you agree with the latter clause, the former is now set to become fact: Paul Pogba will become the most expensive footballer of all time, with Manchester United agreeing to pay Juventus €110 million to take him back to Old Trafford.
It was always accepted that Pogba would eventually part company with the Bianconeri. Raiola has never made any secret of that. “We’ve always said we’ll be able to leave when we feel the time is right, with the right project, the right team and all of the parties are in agreement,” he stated in November 2015. So why, in July 2016, is his most prized possession now joining United?
While a historic accord was reached between United and Juventus that suits two parties (at least financially), looking at this deal from Pogba’s perspective, this is the wrong time, the wrong project and the wrong team.
Firstly, there is the timing. Pogba is leaving Juventus just when they appear to have their best chance of winning the Champions League. As Bianconeri boss Massimiliano Allegri stated four days ago, “Anyone who has the opportunity to leave Juventus has to consider things very carefully because right now Juve are among the top four European clubs.”
Yet Pogba is moving to a side that weren’t even among the top four in England last season. The France international wants to win the Champions League – that dream is now at least another two years away.
Admittedly, Pogba is just 23 and he will have convinced himself that he is buying into a long-term project aimed at restoring United to their former pre-eminence among England’s elite. However, the once-proud protectors of ‘The Manchester United Way’ have entrusted that responsibility to Jose Mourinho, a manager who has never spent more than three seasons at one club.
Of course, Mourinho has sanctioned some typically high-profile signings, chief among them Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. However, the former is a modern great but is now 34 and has only signed on for one season. Meanwhile, there is a question mark over Mkhitaryan’s ability to adjust to the Premier League. The Armenian is an attacking midfielder of rare quality but the last Borussia Dortmund playmaker to pitch up at Old Trafford certainly didn’t fare so well…
Mourinho has some wonderful young talent to work, including Marcus Rashford, but then, the Portuguese has never been a coach under whom talented teenagers have flourished.
The point is not to cast Mourinho in a negative light but to merely point out that after losing dressing rooms in his last two managerial positions, at Chelsea and Real Madrid, there is sufficient uncertainty surrounding his suitability to the United job to make one wonder why Pogba has left a stable, successful side in Turin for a team in transition.
Then again, the sentimentality of the situation cannot be underestimated. Pogba may well feel that he has unfinished business at Old Trafford. He bears no ill will towards Sir Alex Ferguson but remains bitterly upset by the fact that he was never given a proper chance to shine under the former United boss. “I was in love with Manchester and I was a Mancunian,” he told FourFourTwo last year.
However, it still seems strange for a player driven by winning titles and being the best player he can be to have decided that now is the time to return. He could have either pushed for a move to reigning European champions Madrid or spent another season in Turin, where he would have been guaranteed another shot at the Champions League while he closely monitored how Mourinho was faring in Manchester.
Instead, Pogba has taken a huge gamble with his career – one that is only certain to pay off financially.
“If Paul leaves Juventus, it will be for the absolute top,” Raiola insisted last year. However, even the most die-hard United fan would grudgingly admit that United are no longer at the pinnacle of European football.
Pogba may well be a work of art – but he is now a part of what is very much a work in progress.
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