As Paul Pogba struck twice from outside the box in Juventus’ 4-0 victory over Udinese, it would be difficult to fully believe any Manchester United fan that told you he wasn’t bothered by the fact that the 19-year-old, one of Europe’s most talented starlets, had not been kept on the books at Old Trafford.
Pogba joined Juventus for free last summer, after the Frenchman, of Guinean descent, was reported to be highly dissatisfied with United’s refusal to meet his wage demands.
A pay rise would have gone against the club’s position on wages, set out by its owners, the Glazer family, which is determined to keep the salary bill no higher than 50 per cent of turnover.
Financial arguments aside, United lost the services of a player, who they themselves knew possessed all the hallmarks of a future star.
Pogba is described by the club as a “powerful, skilful, and creative” player, who “has stamina, vision to pick out key passes, an eye for goal and a penchant for the spectacular.”
Given the wealth of talent in Juventus’ midfield, many, myself included, expected that Pogba would have to wait at least a season before being able to make his mark for the Italian giants. After all, the reigning champions of Serie A boast the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal in the middle of the park.
But against Udinese, Pogba was called to the starting line-up in the absence of Pirlo, Marchisio and Simone Pepe. He partnered Vidal, the Chilean powerhouse, to make up a very dynamic central midfield, which took their in-form adversary by storm.
So far, Pogba has lived up to his billing as a powerful box-to-box midfielder in Turin. Juventus’ manager Antonio Conte has a reputation for demanding only the highest work ethic from his team. This means that all of his midfielders are expected to show a determination to get back and protect the back four, while making forward forays and penetrative passes to link up with the frontmen.
In this regard, Pogba can be considered a perfect match for Juventus, and his venomous long-range strikes against Udinese added to his tally of four goals in 13 appearances for the current league leaders.
The Frenchman’s recent displays have been very impressive, but they won’t come as much of a surprise to Manchester United. After all, they recognised his potential long ago when they sealed his controversial transfer from former Ligue 1 side, Le Havre, in the summer of 2009, although the Reds were later cleared by FIFA of any wrongdoing in their capture of the player.
Pogba might have played a greater role for United last season, especially in light of the long-term injuries to Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher, but instead he made only seven appearances in all competitions, all as a substitute.
Sir Alex Ferguson presumably considered the teenager too young for a regular run in a side that was competing in a battle with its fierce city rivals for the Premier League title, a battle in which the Scot preferred experienced heads such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to that of the youngster.
United lost that particular duel with Manchester City, albeit very narrowly on goal difference, and, although they currently lead the way in the league this term, their midfield has hardly set the world alight.
On recent form, Pogba would surely have been a major asset for United, especially in light of the limitations (not to mention injury records) of the current crop of midfielders at Old Trafford.
Fletcher’s long-standing chronic bowel disease persists, while Anderson, possibly the most similar player to Pogba at United as a strong box-to-box midfielder, continues to be afflicted by injury. Jones looks a promising player, when fit, but he appears to have far less appetite for getting forward than defending.
That leaves Cleverley, but he seems less comfortable when having to get back and defend, and simply lacks the physical strength of Pogba in order to perform such a devastating box-to-box role.
Some have compared Pogba’s departure from Old Trafford to that of Spanish defender Gerard Pique, who was sold to Barcelona in 2008 for £5million and has since established himself as one of the greatest centre-backs in world football for club and country.
In hindsight, one can safely say that Pique’s sale was a mistake, as he would undoubtedly have strengthened a United defence that has never shown the same solidity since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s long-term absences through injury.
At least that deal was struck at a time when the former England captain and uncompromising Serbian international were at the pinnacle of their respective careers.
The same cannot be said of United’s current midfield, where Pogba was surely destined for a starting berth sooner rather than later, especially if he has already managed to make his mark in what must surely be considered a more competitive group of midfield generals at Juventus.