It’s looking like this summers big transfer saga is going to center around Paul Pogba and his potential move to Man United for a world recording breaking fee of about £100 million – though the numbers do fluctuate wildly depending on who you trust on these issues. So for the sake of casual conversation, lets just call it £100 million and be done with it.
The reason it’s shaping up to be a great transfer saga is because it’s just dripping with narrative. There is literally no angle to view this transfer from that doesn’t have some incredible subplot to it, or isn’t filled with dozens of questions. Questions like; is he worth that kind of money? Is it an embarrassing deal for United? Is he a mercenary? Are United abandoning the “United Way” and no longer developing youth? Is United even his preferred destination, etc? Yeah, lots of questions, so lets unpack this whole story and break it down in itty-bitty pieces and answer some of those questions; strap yourselves in folks, this might take a while.
There are two differing narratives on how Pogba left United in the first place. One would tell you that United failed to recognize his talents and he slipped through the net, and the other is that Pogba was a mercenary who left for more money. We can kill two myths with one stone here, because according to both Ferguson and Pogba, he left for playing time. United knew his talents, they wanted to extend his contract, Ferguson just didn’t think he was quite ready for first team action. By his own admittance, Pogba was impatient, and without assurances of playing time, he left for Juventus.
While nobody is going to try and claim it’s a good bit of business, the fact is that it was Ferguson and then Chief Executive David Gill that let him go, a new Chief Executive (Ed Woodward) and 3 managers later, José Mourinho wants to make Pogba the center piece of his midfield. It’s a whole new management regime at United now, and if they have identified Pogba as a top priority, then the fact that someone else sold him a few years ago should have no relevance or bearing on it. It might be unfortunate, but it’s not embarrassing. It would be embarrassing if Ferguson was still the manager and he was the one now looking to sign Pogba for £100 million, but Mourinho shouldn’t be judged, nor restricted by the mistakes of a regime long retired.
The next big question is whether he is even worth the asking price. The simple answer is probably a no, but he isn’t too far off that number. The market has changed. We’re in a market where United could roughly spend about £250 million ever summer and not raise any eyebrows regarding Financial Fair Play. We’re in a market where a club like Watford can turn down £30 million for a player like Troy Deeney. The Premier League is bursting at the seams with money from this summer on, everything is going to go up, and it’s going to go up in a ridiculously steep incline. It can’t be compared with Ronaldo going to Madrid for £80 million in 2009, because everything has inflated drastically in the last 7 years. A 2009 Ronaldo would be £200 million in today’s market. What were once cash strapped clubs can afford to break their transfer records while at the same time turn down huge money for their own coveted stars. David Moyes must think back to his days of counting the pennies at Everton, only to since see them buy the likes of Lukaku, getting linked with players like Juan Mata, all while being able to turn down £40 million for John Stones. The numbers are through the roof.
With that type of market mind, £100 million isn’t that much of a stretch for one of Europe’s brightest young stars. Even if you still don’t think he is quite worth £100 million, he surely must be valued at somewhere in the £70-80 million bracket at least, and if it’s a case that Man United need to over spend by £20 million or so in order to try and get themselves back to where they want to be, having had such a fall from grace over the last 3 years, then so be it. The Glazers being thrifty in the market in Ferguson’s final few years is more than partially to blame for the squad needed a massive over haul in the past few years anyway.
If Pogba isn’t worth that kind of money, then you have to ask yourself, why the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are so interested in his services. Why do Real Madrid view him as their next Galactico, and why exactly haven’t Juventus already snapped United’s hand off, if Pogba is worth nowhere near the amount on offer? He might be over priced, but he isn’t ridiculously over priced. Regardless, United need to address their midfield, it’s a critical area for them this summer, and if you were to draw up a list of the top 10 midfielders in Europe at the moment, the list is full of players that are either unattainable, not the right age profile, or not the right type of midfielder. Pogba ticks all the boxes from United’s point of view. While not the polished, complete midfielder just yet, Pogba is only 23 and already in the conversation for the best midfielder in the world, his talent ceiling is potentially huge. For a team like United, looking to get back to the top, a player like Pogba is an absolute no brainer, because getting Pogba ultimately means that one of their rivals doesn’t get Pogba, even if they are paying over the odds by a few million – and lets face it, 20-30 million is a “few million” to a team like United.
There are mixed reports out there contradicting where Pogba’s preferred destination is. Guillem Balague would have you believe its Real Madrid, while Gianluca Di Marzio and L’Equipe will tell you it’s United. While I have nothing to go on other than my gut, I have a feeling Pogba would like to go to United. 99% of the time, I would say that players would prefer Madrid, but in this case, I think Pogba may be an exception. Not too long ago, Pogba gave an interview to Four Four Two magazine and had very warm things to say about United. When asked about his reasons to leave he said; “”He (Ferguson) said ‘your time will come’ but it never did. It didn’t come. But it does not mean I will speak ill of Manchester United. I love the club.” And when asked if it was hard to leave Manchester itself; “It was a very, very difficult moment for me because I was in love with Manchester and I was a Mancunian.”
Pogba has good friends, friends he won trophies with in the United academy now playing in the first team, so settling shouldn’t be an issue. Then there is the José factor; like him of loathe him, Mourinho has pull – players want to play for him. There could also be a sense of unfinished business, or a desire to prove himself at a club he feels he never got the chance to. For everything going wrong at United over the last three years, the Man United of today could look like a very exciting project for a player.
When you step back and look at the transfer from different angles, you can see other reasons why a move could be tempting. Pogba is a global superstar, a poster boy for Adidas, the kind of player who heads up brands and advertising campaigns. And while it’s sad to think of football from a marketing perspective, that’s the world we live in. United are a commercial behemoth, and they can help grow Pogba’s brand better than anyone. At United, Pogba can be the man, and not potentially getting lost in the shuffle behind the likes of Ronaldo and Bale at Madrid. There are a lot of reasons why a move to United may look more favorable than Madrid, and I never thought I would say that.
For any United fans worrying about whether this will signal an end to developing youth, and bring on more of a Galactico approach; United have always spent big money on marquee players, they just managed to keep a healthy balance of home grown stars complimented with the big signings. United have broken records before for Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Angel Di Maria. United spending £100 million on Pogba will have zero impact on the likes of Rashford, Lingard, Fosu-Mensah, Januzaj and Borthwick-Jackson. The things it will have an impact on is stuff more along the lines of how much game time Fellaini gets, or how many times we have to watch Wayne Rooney stink up the game pretending to be a midfielder. It will have an impact on a lot of things, but the emerging young talent that United fans are so proud of isn’t one of them. Even with the likes of Pogba, Zlatan and Mkhitaryan coming into the side, United will still probably have the squad with the most home grown, academy produced players in the league.
The last thing to consider is; United are essentially the opposite of a sugar daddy club. Instead of someone pumping hundreds of millions into the club, United have owners who routinely suck hundreds of millions out of the club instead. There is another big reason why United fans shouldn’t be too concerned with the money being spent; the Glazers. For the last 11 years, the Glazers have sucked about £100 million sterling every single year out of the club to pay their own personal debts. When United spend 100 million on either interest payments, or lining the Glazers pockets, fans of other clubs couldn’t give two shits, but when United spend the same amount of money on a player, everyone is up in arms. If you’re a United fan, then ask yourself, would you rather see that money – and it is an exorbitant amount – sitting in the Glazers bank account or running around on the pitch?
by Andrew Furlong