On paper, it seems absurd. As a concept, it’s almost grotesque. In practice, it draws scrutiny to Sir Alex Ferguson’s handling of Paul Pogba when he was last a Manchester United player.
Should this deal be completed, it will not be the first of Pogba’s transfers to unfold on a wave of contentious narrative. At the young age of 23, it has become a recurring theme.
His initial signing for Manchester United was steeped in controversy and ultimately resulted in a FIFA investigation. His previous club Le Havre, felt that Man United had solicited Pogba illegally and that clauses existed that should have prohibited the move.
Much to Le Havre’s chagrin, not only did FIFA rule against them but they also had to deal with allegations of hypocrisy from Pogba’s previous club Torcy. Le Havre they claimed, had done precisely what they were accusing United of when they signed the player.
Pogba’s departure from Manchester United notoriously acrimonious. When a contract extension was turned down, Sir Alex Ferguson declared his suspicions that the player had “signed” for Juventus a long time ago.
Some critics among Manchester United’s fanbase, felt that Fergie had brought the situation on the club himself, preferring it seemed, to give chances to the likes of Darron Gibson and Tom Cleverly over the significantly more talented Frenchman.
As Juventus play hardball, with the latest reports claiming a rejection of an eye-watering €120m offer, while Clevs and Gibbo ply their trades at middling clubs, this certainly feels like one of Sir Alex’s rare missteps.
So is Pogba worth it? Philosophically, I’ve long found quantity of money exchanged in football transfer fees to be obscene. However, the market is what it is and if that’s what a suitor is prepared to pay, there’s no point in my getting sanctimonious about it.
Let there be no doubt: this is a special talent. A player with a flair for the spectacular and an uncanny knack for producing at vital moments, the one criticism at this stage of his career, is a tendency to drift out of games on occasion. At 23 years of age though, that is something that can still be overcome.
There is more to this particular decision than the player on offer however. As great and famous as Manchester United may be, they’ve actually been somewhat gun-shy about pulling in the biggest names from around the globe.
Some may be surprised at that statement but it bears out. Over Fergie’s tenure, the club only ever signed one truly established, confirmed grade-A elite star from outside the Premiership. That was of course, Juan Sebastian Veron. We all know how that turned out.
I’m sure many reading this will be flicking through Man United legends in their heads. You might think of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam or Nemanja Vidic. While all these players were signed from strong domestic outfits, each with something of a growing reputation, I think it’s fair to say that neither PSV Eindhoven or Spartak Moscow were top-rung destination clubs. Certainly, these players had yet to be tested in top leagues.
When Fergie spent big on proven talent, he tended to look to those with Premiership pedigree: Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Michael Carrick. You could perhaps argue Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich as another exception, though I wouldn’t call him elite. He was hardly irreplaceable at Munich.
In an age where Real Madrid shatter world transfer records as a matter of routine, Barcelona can seemingly entice talent with a click of their fingers, Bayern frequently flex their financial muscle and suger-daddied nouveau riche spend as a decalration of intent, United have tended to be a little more understated.
Even though the likes of Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata have graced Old Trafford in recent years, their clubs easily acquiesced to the sales, rather than having their hands forced in an unrelenting pursuit.
With this signing, United have a prime opportunity to reassert their authority; to show the benefits of their colossal fan-base and staggering commercial performance. If Man United make a point of getting Paul Pogba, no matter what the price, it sends a long overdue message: if we truly want your player, resistance is futile.
While there a some that will never forgive the Glazer family for placing the club in debt or using the club for profit, such a move also signals their own ambitions for the club. One of the stated fears about the ownership is that they may be satisfied to run the club in a manner which Arsenal are often accused of: as long as we’re reaching the Champions League and its bountiful revenues, winning the league isn’t that big of a deal.
If this deal goes through, the amount spent since Fergie’s departure flies in the face of such suspicions.
This also reassert’s Man United’s specter as a true giant, increasing their profile as a grade A destination for the game’s best.
So in conclusion, I urge United to do what it takes. I’m not normally one for praising high transfer fees but on this occasion we are doing more than buying a player.
We are investing in a reaffirmation that there is nobody bigger than Manchester United.