Pogba to Manchester United: football's most shameful transfer
In July 2012, Paul Pogba – then a 19-year-old prospect with a handful of first-team appearances to his name – saw out his contract at Manchester United and moved to Juventus on a free transfer. Then United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was damning with his verdict on the player: "it is disappointing. I don't think he showed us any respect at all, to be honest. I'm quite happy that if they (players) carry on that way, they're probably better doing it away from us." In the end, United received just £800,000 in compensation for a player who has since become the hottest property in Europe.
Pogba is a magnificent player – a totally modern footballer who blends pace, power and technical ability in an irresistible package. He has an eye for the spectacular, which is one of the reasons football fans love to watch him play. He still has a mistake in him and doesn't look after the ball perhaps as well as he should, but at just 23, there's plenty of time to coach any rough edges out of his game. A Champions League finalist with Juventus, a four-time Scudetto winner and a European Championship runner-up with France this summer, Pogba is already one of Europe's best midfielders and still improving.
Earlier this month, The Guardian revealed that Manchester United are in talks with Juventus over a deal that would see them buy back a player they released on a free transfer just four summers ago. The proposed fee? Somewhere in the region of €120 million (£100m). If it goes through, that deal would make Paul Pogba the most expensive player in football history, and would cast Manchester United as negotiators and forward planners of the most hapless stripe.
In the current climate, few would argue that Pogba isn't worth serious money. But to smash the world transfer record on a player you previously employed – and allowed to leave for free? That would constitute a truly farcical piece of strategy from the Old Trafford brass. And yet, this isn't unknown territory for the Premier League or for Jose Mourinho. While in charge of Chelsea, the same manager bought Nemanja Matic back to the club that sold him to Benfica for £4.25m just three years previously. Chelsea's buy-back fee was a robust £22.95m.
Before you accuse me of an anti-Mourinho bias, know this: my club (Arsenal) are reportedly interested in former youth teamer Oguzhan Özyakup – a player who left for £495,000 three years ago and is now worth somewhere in the region of £20m.
And yet, the Pogba transfer stands alone in ignominy.
As good as Pogba is, he's yet to establish himself as a consistent difference-maker in the way that Gareth Bale – the world's most expensive player incumbent – undoubtedly is. Perhaps, as a central midfielder, he never will – the role is after all a varied one. €120m is a sum to draw intense scrutiny to any player, however – especially given the circumstances of the Frenchman's return to Old Trafford. Non-football fans often grumble that the Premier League is too awash with money, and they're right. What Manchester United are saying with this bid is that stratospheric sums of cash simply don't matter to them – with the new Premier League TV deal in place they can afford to lose €120m down the back of the sofa, let alone spend it on one of the best young players in Europe.
Premier League clubs and Europe's other elite sides are entering a period of post-husbandry, where finances are so readily available that coaching, scouting and youth development are practically redundant. Why take a gamble on nurturing a youth team protege when you can sell him on, let someone else do the hard work and simply buy him back if and when he comes good? Who cares if you waste £20m, £30m or £50m in the process just as long as you get your man? There was a time when stars weren't brought to Old Trafford and The Emirates: they were made there. Now, we've all signed up to the Galactico model.
I'll leave you with this. Just think, for a moment, how the player at the centre of this circus must feel. Ferguson implied that he let Pogba go because he had the temerity to suggest he was bigger than the club. If United are prepared to break the global transfer record to get him back, then Pogba will know he was right.
– Louis Rossi