It’s pretty safe to say that Sir Alex Ferguson has a relatively short level of tolerance towards players who don’t rise to his expected standards and many of those in the dock before Wednesday night’s limp Carling Cup defeat to Crystal Palace will now have been found guilty and sentenced to a life outside of Old Trafford.
With the champions hobbling through their annual autumn tribulations, the onus was placed upon a number of peripheral squad players to reinstate themselves back into the good books and increase competition on those currently occupying but not excelling themselves in the first team.
However, after a humbling 120 minutes of football where the Premier League champions were individually and collectively outplayed by a side from the division below, Ferguson must now reappraise where the wake-up call to the establishment will come from.
For the likes of Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson and Dimitar Berbatov – unceremoniously hooked at half-time after doing the square root of nothing – further chances to redeem themselves are unlikely to be forthcoming, if at all, with the January sales starting in under a month.
If anything, the Old Trafford faithful would suggest their boss has been too patient at times with this trio, especially as Gibson’s extended involvement seems to have come at the expense of the talented French teenager Paul Pogba who has failed to break into the first team despite being lauded by Ferguson at the start of the campaign as a potential component of the united midfield.
Once again on Wednesday, Pogba was limited to a cameo from the bench, yet despite impressing in a 25 minute spell, his chances of featuring in more noteworthy games appear slim, as does his chances of remaining at the club past the summer.
Pogba’s contract will be up in June, and although United have tried to entice the former Le Havre starlet into penning a new long term deal, it’s believed the player has grown tired of having his path blocked at Old Trafford and will chose to move clubs.
But moving clubs won’t mean moving house with Manchester City keep to snap up one of their arch rivals prized assets. City ambassador Patrick Vieira is believed to have held sway over Pogba’s next destination with the les bleus World Cup winner convincing his protégé that a switch to Eastlands would be a good fit.
Whether he’d get much of a game for City considering he’s failed to establish himself at United remains to be seen, but from a blue perspective there aren’t many downsides to getting another one up over Lord Fergie’s lot.
Losing Pogba will be a blow to the coaching staff at Carrington who genuinely believe the leggy 18-year-old could fill a void within the Reds seniors over the next few seasons. The club went to great lengths to procure Pogba from his homeland in 2009, prompting Le Havre to accuse United of ‘tapping-up’ their boy, and threatening them with legal action.
The whole thing blew over and since arriving in Manchester, Pogba was prominent in helping the clubs youth team win the FA Youth cup last season and has regularly featured for the reserves.
However, if Pogba does decide to clear his locker, it will be another example of a top club acquiring much sought after talent, spending time and resource on their development and then failing to utilise it properly. Given the paucity of quality in midfield for United at the moment, it does beg the question as to why Pogba’s not been given a run-out.
It takes a brave man to question Ferguson’s wisdom and if the Scot believes Pogba isn’t ready then you’d have to side with the man who has overseen a constant evolution of young players into his Manchester United productions, but given the viable alternatives and the repercussions of not playing Pogba, could the scenario be much worse if the kid was fast-tracked into the set-up, purely to get him to stay?
After nurturing the player for three years, United would either have to start the process again by finding another precocious talent or, find themselves a player of similar ability and age to replace Pogba as someone to immediately stake a claim. Either way, one solution is time consuming, the other expensive and neither as convenient as promoting a player from within.
United will feel aggrieved should they lose their man for a nominal tribunal fee – especially to City – but sympathy should really be saved for Le Havre, who would more than likely have given him plenty of match minutes by now. The great irony here of course, is that had Pogba been impressing in Ligue 1 up to this point, he would be exactly the type of young tyro that United’s networking of scouts would have identified and commissioned the signing of for plenty more than he’s come and gone for.
And herein lies than dangers of simply stockpiling young talent. Far too frequently clubs fail to integrate players into the seniors because there is a perception that the player is your product, your property and as such, you can do what you want and when. Therefore, there’s no rush to get them in, a few cup games and European dead rubbers here and there combined with loan spells is enough to appease the lad when really clubs are doing nothing more than juggling their resource so they can eventually pick the ripest berries from the bush.
There’s not a lot wrong with that of course, it’s the clubs prerogative and if they’re prepared to invest in giving these players a footballing education which will then flourish elsewhere – so be it it. The anomaly comes however, when clubs then sign players for elevated fees on the basis they’re doing well given match minutes elsewhere, and in United’s case, this is what they’ve got wrong with Pogba.
With young and talented players there is no material value, but more of a symbolic value based on the need to have what you haven’t got, and in Pogba’s, United have got what they haven’t got, and they’ll soon not have him.
Follow John Baines on twitter @bainesyDiego10