Summer 2016 was only 18 months ago, but feels like a lifetime away. Manchester United spent big, but was it money spent wisely?
Early on, it was apparent Paul Pogba was going to end up as a massive player. Juventus had pulled off a coup and everybody in the world knew that he was destined for super-stardom. He was the second ‘P’ in Juve’s worlds-best midfield. Often causing a selection nightmare, Antonio Conte and then Max Allegri had to figure out how to fit Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba into one unit. They could cut you six ways to Sunday.
Pirlo, who has just recently retired from professional football was the architect. He allowed Pogba to play freely and openly down the left flank in the 3-5-2. Pogba would often rush from an outside position into the middle and cause havoc for the opposition. With the power of a tank and the accuracy of a sniper Pogba gave himself a reputation of being a goalscoring number 6 in a midfield of aces.
Vidal and Marchisio were the fighters in the midfield, the ones who did the dirty work and held the opposition in check. Again, with Pirlo being the ‘regista’ and having one if not both of Vidal and Marchisio on the pitch, Pogba had the opportunity roam freely. Perhaps in the end, that’s why he ended up scoring 38 goals and racking up 43 assists in a totally dominant Juventus side.
Off the pitch, Paul was a marketing juggernaut. Serie A had a new face and it wasn’t Francesco Totti or Paolo Maldini. Whether it was the ‘Dab’ celebration, the monstrous Nike boot deal he inked, or just the fact he was a monstrous 1.91m midfielder running at defenders like a wild animal at full speed, Pogba was in a class of his own.
He was a euphoric figure for Juventus, a true World Class midfielder head and shoulders above the rest. There was just one problem in paradise, his agent Mino Raiola.
Raiola is referred to as the best in the business. The ultimate professional who’s clients include Mario Balotelli, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku, Marco Verratti and many others. These are the guys who transfer multiple times in their careers in top-dollar moves. The Dutch-Italian agent is a mercenary in a realm of loyalty, and keeping Pogba at Juventus was never going to be a top priority.
In the summer of 2016, Manchester United came calling and for over a month there were daily reports from half of Europe saying ‘Today is the Day! Pogba signs with the Red Devils!’
Raiola and Pogba were toying with the hearts of millions, and in the end, Manchester United signed him for over €105 million plus agent fees, a record breaking deal.
His legacy at Juve was ruined, especially after he called his time in Turin ‘a vacation’. Many parties walked away with sacks of cash, many walked away discontent for the way their club was treated.
Two years after losing the UEFA Champions League finale in Berlin with Juventus, Pogba lifted the Europa League title over Ajax.
But the question remains whether or not Pogba has lived up to his billing. In the 63 games he’s played for United since his return, he’s found the back of the net 12 times and assisted another 12. It’s not the same level of production, but objectively, the Red Devils aren’t the best team in their league. It’s not like his Juventus where the Bianconeri were clear-cut favorites.
Pogba isn’t the biggest fish in the pond in Manchester. Large personalities such as Jose Mourinho, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan, David De Gea and others undoubtedly take the spotlight off of him, and some injuries have kept him out as well. It’s important to factor all of this in when making the verdict on his fee.
In the end, there’s no clear answer. From a marketing perspective, the €105 million seems like a smart investment, the amount of merchandising Pogba’s name sells is massive, couple that in the fact Manchester United remain the most supported club in the world, you can only imagine how much his monetary value has increased.
But what did €105 million get them on the pitch? That’s a different story. In today’s market, that sum could have been spent better and perhaps the club would not have finished 6th last season and be so far behind rivals Manchester City who lead the table. For any other club the sum would’ve seemed disastrous, but Manchester United have spent over €700 million since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, which in the end is a drop in the bucket.
Pogba was a statement to the rest of the continent that they have the might to pull back one of their greatest mistakes, letting him go for free in the first place, only three years prior.