There have been three occasions on which Manchester City has visited Old Trafford with the clubs occupying the top two spots in the Premier League. Yet, the latest instalment has an entirely different narrative to it than those that proceeded.
As the world’s most expensive footballer took a wild swing-and-miss in the dying embers of Manchester United’s dismal draw with AFC Bournemouth last weekend the sound of knives being sharpened was almost audible. The reaction to that pivotal miscue was a perfect snapshot of the hyperbolic culture that has ingrained itself in modern football. There is no better example of the phenomenon than Paul Pogba.
Manchester United wasn’t in any mood for a song and dance at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Wednesday. The Old Trafford club eased to a 1-0 win against their French opponents, Saint-Etienne – a victory attained at some cost, with Eric Bailly seeing red, and both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick collecting injuries.
There’s a lot that can be bought with £89 million. That’s how much it took to free the world’s most talented young midfielder from Juventus this past summer. In some quarters it bought Manchester United an over-rated, over-dabbing, hair- changing vine merchant. The truth is very different of course. Performances increasingly show that United now boasts the best midfielder in the Premier League. Not only that, he might be on another level altogether than his rivals.
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.