Social media is an amazing tool for sports. Twitter allows for instant reactions, enabling fanbases of all clubs to unite, or clash, in one giant community. Increasingly, video is proving a critical part of the interaction: Twitter video and Vine, which was popular until its demise. But the impact of video clips has undoubtedly had an impact on the football bubble. Not always in a positive way.
Paul Pogba’s tough start to life at Manchester United is reflective of the struggle the club has faced in turning record acquisitions into real success since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. In fact United has failed to extract the most from its last three record purchases: Pogba, Angel di Maria, and Juan Mata. While the players’ performances, attitude and commitment can sometimes be called into question, it also clear that the United has made precious few plans for what to do with the club’s shiny new toys.
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to depart into hell.”
Rant doesn’t often get biblical, but in a summer of tough decisions for Manchester United, it is true that success sometimes necessitates sacrifice. Trimming the fat can be the price of moving forward, making tough calls for the betterment and progression of a club. United might need to address the elephant in the room – Wayne Rooney is the hand that might need to be severed for the body to survive.
That Paul Pogba is returning to Old Trafford is not surprising. Despite the protracted nature of the transfer, Manchester United has made steady progress throughout the process. Transfers of this magnitude, and it is a world record at €110 million, are multifaceted and difficult to pull off. Much credit goes to Ed Woodward for pulling this off, though one suspects it was José Mourinho’s dogged will that really facilitated the trade.
So it has finally happened and we can dispense with the “blah, blah, blah,” because Manchester United has signed a marquee player on Ed Woodward’s watch. Old Trafford awaits the return of the prodigal Paul, Monsieur Pogba.
For the first time in what feels like a generation there are plenty of options in Manchester United’s attack. Such was the depth of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal’s mediocrity that each was an architect of some of the most boring football seen at Old Trafford in decades. It is now José Mourinho’s time and the impression is already strong that he will not stand for it. Fun is returning to the red side of Manchester.
It’s a simple equation: Manchester United needs Paul Pogba more than Paul Pogba needs to be with the Reds. Sign o’ the times. It’s little wonder that Juventus has backed Ed Woodward into a corner over the mooted £100 million transfer fee, with agent Mino Raiola battering the executive vice chairman into submission over his commission. Despite reports of a ‘stalled bid’ and renewed Real Madrid interest the Reds will probably end up paying all of it. It’ll still be a bargain if it helps bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.
So there it is, confirmation bar wet ink on a contract, that Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba will move to Italian champions Juventus this summer. United will receive compensation in the region of £300,000, while Pogba will enjoy a huge salary bump to more than €1 million per season on a four-year contract with the Turin-based club.
Yet, with the Reds have willingly sold Ravel Morrison to West Ham United last January, Pogba becomes the second player in the 2011 FA Youth Cup winning team to depart Old Trafford. The departures of two highly talented players in a short space of time may be coincidence, and each for different reasons, but fans will ask questions of the club’s planning and strategy.
Confirmation of Pogba’s move was sent earlier this month by letter from the French midfielder’s agent, Mino Raiola, to United chief executive David Gill. Yet, it is only in the past week that Juve executives have gone public, secure in the knowledge that a deal has been agreed for the talented youngster. Pogba’s contract with Vecchia Signora will kick in on 1 July, the day after his Old Trafford deal runs out.
“We have lured Pogba away from Manchester United, we respected the rules,” Juventus general director Giuseppe Marotta told Corriere dello Sport.
“Pogba, for his own reasons, didn’t intend to renew his contract with United. So we informed the club and we are now waiting for an answer. Talks are well advanced.”
There is no doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson will be disappointed though – if not embarrassed – by United’s failure to hang on to a leading youth talent, having invested publicly in backing the player over the past year. While Pogba’s form has been intermittent for United’s all-conquering reserves this season, Ferguson has been fulsome in his praise of the teenager’s potential.
Meanwhile, the deal represents a major coup for Juve, tempting away one of Europe’s most sought-after young players for a minimal fee, with virtually no risk attached. While the Old Lady has constructed its first championship winning side since Calciopoli, and moved into a brand new stadium, Juventus’ budget is just a fraction of United’s at £167.8 million to the Reds’ £331.4 million. Juve should not be able compete with United on wages.
Yet, Juventus seemingly offers a more attractive proposition, both financially, with the Italians presumably offering more than United was prepared to countenance for a reserve player, and perhaps in terms of football too. After all, while much talk has centred on United’s central midfield over the past year, Pogba started no games for the first team in the season just finished. This despite long-term injuries and illness affecting Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Tom Cleverley.
The Frenchman may find it challenging to break into Antonio Conte’s side where Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal have formed an effective central midfield triumvirate, but this will presumably mean a loan spell at a Serie B club next season. Ferguson, presumably, could not guarantee that Pogba will play any more games at United.
Back at Old Trafford there remains the question of how Sir Alex failed to persuade Pogba that United is the youngster’s best option. After all, while Juve’s offer is attractive it is not life-changing, especially for a player many believe will make it to the very top. While United is no longer the best paying club in England, the old adage that players don’t need to chase money at Old Trafford, it will find them, remains true. However, United, it appears, was indeed outbid for the player’s services.
Moreover, Ferguson’s while reputation for developing youth is unparalleled, the 70-year-old Scot’s pleas for Pogba to sign a new deal in Manchester fell on very deaf ears.
In context of selling Morrison, who was willingly forced out by Ferguson, United have now lost two of the finest players from last season’s Youth Cup winning side. Losing one was a shame; two begs some very real questions. Moreover, years of work helping Pogba to develop greater range in his game since the player joined in controversial circumstances from Le Harve in 2009 have effectively been wasted – a player polished for Juve to enjoy.
There is no guarantee of successful development of any of United’s other young stars either. While the club’s reserves won the FA Premier Reserve League North, Play-off, and the Manchester Senior Cup in the campaign just finished, it is unlikely any of Warren Joyce’s side will break into the’ first team next season. Many will play in the Championship on loan, but history tells us that Ferguson will be thankful if just one makes it at United as a regular first team player. Morrison and Pogba were seen by many, at differing times, as ‘sure things’.
Then there is the question of where, exactly, United now ranks in the market for football talent. If the club is unable, or unwilling, to sanction fees and wages for the very best players, and cannot hold onto youth, there is a real possibility of United being squeezed out of the market at both ends.
After all this isn’t an esoteric question. Financial fair play, market economics, and United’s huge debt, each mean that identifying, developing and polishing young talent is a major priority for Ferguson and his coaching team. Losing one of the best prospects to a European rival makes for a very uncomfortable view of the future.
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.