There was much gnashing of collective Tweets on social media channels Tuesday night as news filtered through that vaunted teenage midfielder Paul Pogba has agreed to join Juventus next season. Pogba will reportedly sign a four-year contract worth €1 million per season, with the Frenchman’s agent picking up some €2 million for brokering the deal. The deal, when officially confirmed, will leave Manchester United’s management frustrated, and fans confused why a second talented youngster has left the club in a matter of months.
Pogba, whose United contract expires in June, will reportedly join the Italian giants next season after agent Mino Raiola negotiated a deal with the 27-times Serie A winners; an offer on the table from United was ultimately rejected by the Pogba, or his people. Indeed, the size of the Raiola’s demands to secure a new deal with United was reportedly a major sticking point in negotiations, which effectively brok down a fortnight ago. Pogba has reportedly been training with the reserve team since.
Meanwhile, another emerging talent, Ravel Morrison, departed the club for West Ham United in January. Morrison’s departure was, perhaps, inevitable with the club finally realising that all the euphemistic baggage could not be shed while the player remained in Manchester. The teenager, frustrated at a lack of senior opportunities, simply wanted to be in the first team. Anywhere.
Pogba’s departure is entirely different to Morrison’s of course, with the transfer driven – depending on which side of the story is most prominent – by a naïve, possibly greedy player, manipulative agent and a club unwilling to scale new pay heights for an unproven player.
But with two leading stars of last season’s FA Youth Cup winning side now departed, or on the way out, fans are given pause to wonder just how careless United has been. After all, to have lost one supreme talent was unfortunate. Two departing Old Trafford in quick succession begs a whole new level of questions.
Naturally there will now be a significant amount of revisionism. Pogba, once seen as the new bright young thing in United’s academy, has now become the ‘unproven kid’, with just four first team appearances to his name. Fans are, as the cliché goes, fickle – and there is no greater pain than being rejected by the one you love.
As ever the nuances of truth lie somewhere in between. After all, this is a player with all the raw ingredients to make a midfielder of the very highest class, but one who was not yet ready for regular first team action. Pogaba’s performances at reserve level this season have rarely impressed, too often giving the impression of a player in a hurry without the patience to develop in his own time.
Meanwhile, Italian ‘super agent’ Raiola joined the scene last year, provoking a flurry of stories that Pogba was in talks with a range of Serie A clubs, together with Manchester City and Chelsea. While the domestic links were not solidified, Raiola has seemingly worked his home turf hard to come up with a deal that suits all parties – except United that is.
Indeed, the risk is minimal for the Old Lady, with Juve’s maximum outlay around €6 million over four years. The player receives a hefty bump in salary, while the agent commands a huge fee. United will be left with around £300,000 in FIFA mandated ‘training compensation’.
Accusations of greed abound, of course. Pogba’s salary hike is generous, netting the 18-year-old around £16,000 per week; coincidentally, only marginally more than Morrison will initially earn at West Ham. Certainly, Pogba’s agent has done very well out of the deal, leading to a charge that he put himself and not the player’s interests first.
Time will tell whether the move is as good for Pogba’s playing chances as the youngster’s bank account, with Juve already boasting plenty of central midfield resources. After all, in addition to veteran Andrea Pirlo, the bianconeri boasts Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Luca Marrone competing for spots in Antonio Conte’s side. The young Frenchman way well find himself out on loan next season – as is the Italian way.
But there are also questions of United’s conduct, both financially and in managing the player. Indeed, in the summer Ferguson spoke of his need to use the club’s younger players; it was a key tenet of the manager’s argument for not spending heavily to reinforce central midfield.
“If we hold Pogba back, what’s going to happen? He’s going to leave. You know, in a couple of years’ time when his contract is going to finish,” claimed Sir Alex last August. “So we have to give him the opportunity to see how he can do in the first-team and he’s got great ability.”
Four substitute appearances later and Pogba’s frustration at not making a breakthrough this season may be understandable. After all, United is not over-stocked with class in central midfield, with only Michael Carrick excelling this season. Darron Gibson was always going to be sold, while Darren Fletcher’s health is a long-term concern, and Paul Scholes, initially at least, retired.
True, others have deserved the breakthrough more – Larnell Cole, Jesse Lingard and Michael Keane, to name but three, have genuinely excelled at reserve level. Yet, there is no doubting Pogba’s raw talent. His was a key cog in the academy side that won last season’s Youth Cup – the most talented group, according to many observers, since the famed ‘class of 1992’. It is a group no more.
Then there is the question of money and whether United’s hardline stance on both wages and fees to agents is prudent. While Old Trafford’s bean counters are keen on reducing wage inflation at all levels this may be at the expense of retaining competitiveness at the bottom end of the market.
Of course, £16,000 per week in wages is beyond the dreams of almost all United supporters. Perhaps morally, ethically and financially bankrupt too. But if that is the level the market now dictates for talented youth then United’s position is not tenable.
Priced out of a deal for Wesley Sneijder at the very top of the market last summer, if the Reds cannot afford the best young players either then the squeeze on talent in Ferguson’s squad will be felt. Morrison and Pogba are not an island – Davide Petrucci and Ezikiel Fryers are also out of contract in the summer and seemingly likely to move on.
Yet Pogba’s deal with Juve, should it be confirmed officially, leaves a bitter after taste for many Old Trafford regulars. The hope of many that United could compete at the very top-level with talent drawn from within is on hold once again.
Instead, United has struggled to translate investment in youth over two decades to talent in the first team. John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Darren Fletcher have been good servants, if short of the very highest class; Jonny Evans is only now beggining to demonstrate the talent that has drawn loyalty from his manager. Tom Cleverley and the da Silva brothers may well come good, although all three provoke questions over ongoing fitness.
In truth, it is almost impossibly difficult to build a team from within, unless of course, the club’s name is Barcelona. On a night when 20-year-old Cristian Tello marked his Champions League début with a brace for the Catalan giants there was another reminder that talent knows no age barrier.
Greed, manipulation or a club unwilling to financially compete? Only time will tell whether United has genuinely lost out with Pogba’s move to Italy.
In the meantime the club will move on; fans will forget. In an age of rolling social media, young players no longer develop away from the spotlight. Last season’s Morrison, Pogba and Ryan Tunnicliffe are easily cast aside in the collective consciousness. Roll up Gyliano van Velzen, Mats Møller Dæhli and Adnan Januzaj. They demand your adoration.