Welcome back to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we take a look at Paul Pogba.
Pogba began his senior career at Manchester United, making seven appearances before departing for Juventus in 2012. The Frenchman subsequently re-signed for the Red Devils in 2016 and has appeared a further 186 times for the club to date.
Returning Players – Paul Pogba
First Spell at Manchester United
Paul Pogba’s parent club, Le Havre, were unhappy about the way in which his move to Manchester unfolded, claiming that an agreement was already in place for them to sign the youngster themselves once he satisfied age and scholarship requirements.
The controversy of ‘tapping up’ came to light when Gael Kakuta breached his deal with Lens in order to secure a move to Chelsea. Although United were cleared of any wrongdoing by a FIFA-appointed judge, the attention generated by this fiasco already had Pogba in the headlines.
After seeming so desperate to break away, Pogba’s first spell at United didn’t unfold as he would have hoped, appearing a handful of times at senior level before refusing to sign a new contract. After choosing to join Juventus on a free transfer, an enraged Sir Alex Ferguson accused him of a lack of respect,
Teams That Paul Pogba Played for in Between
Pogba joined Juventus and his arrival in Turin was synonymous with La Vecchia Signora‘s dominance of Serie A.
Taking a while to accustom to life in Italy, Pogba emerged as a cornerstone of Juve’s side, making the most appearances (51) of any player under Antonio Conte in the 2013/14 season. Operating as a destructive yet elegant playmaker in midfield, he recorded a combined total of 18 goals and assists throughout the campaign, including two piledrivers against Udinese.
A change of manager, in swapping Conte for Massimiliano Allegri, signalled a shift in Juventus’ ambitions. No longer content with breezing their way to the title, they wanted to take Europe by storm and claim their first Champions League crown since 1996.
I Bianconeri played some mesmerising football that season, with Pogba instrumental in their run to the Champions League final, setting up Alvaro Morata for the goal that dumped Real Madrid out of contention. The French international might well have won the ‘Trophy with the Big Ears’ in 2015, were it not for the terrorising trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. ‘MSN’ were magical on that night in Berlin, their trickery bamboozling one of the best backlines we have seen in recent times to guide Barcelona to a 3-1 win.
The French international must have drank in that masterclass, as he was equally spellbinding in 2015/16. His side endured a horrible start in defence of their title, but Pogba picked his men up to propel them to yet another Serie A crown. His ten assists helped Juve take 73 points from a possible 75 after they were sat in 12th place after 13 games.
Pogba’s excellence had not gone unnoticed. By now, one of the most highly-rated footballers worldwide had suitors from all over the globe. However, one club, possessing a chequebook as large as its trophy collection made an offer that Pogba would have been mad to turn down.
Paul Pogba Return to Manchester United
Becoming the most expensive footballer in the world seems like a good way to entice an individual as extroverted as Pogba to re-join your club, and Manchester United did just that in the summer of 2016, paying a whopping £90 million to secure his services once again.
Arriving at the same time as Jose Mourinho, the man regarded as the master for coaxing talent out of a star-studded squad, the pair were the perfect big-money match to return United to the top level of English football.
As has been well-documented to the point of exhaustion, the relationship between the pair barely had the chance to flower, let alone blossom into something successful. Although Pogba made 30 appearances as Mourinho guided his side to the EFL Cup and Europa League, his overall attacking impact was limited.
It was in 2017/18 that his role really sparked debate, as Pogba often neglected his defensive duties, favouring a freer role further up the pitch which caused him to be dropped for the emerging Scott McTominay in more important matches.
Looking more liberated as he excelled for eventual champions France at the 2018 World Cup, there were hopes that Pogba could replicate this form once the new Premier League season got underway.
The expectation was that United would kick on from an impressive second-placed finish the previous season to provide proper competition for ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City. However, all the promise unravelled like an out-of-control ball of string as Mourinho lost the dressing room.
In the midst of the crisis, the Portuguese coach took a personal dig at Pogba, labelling him a “virus”.
Now, very few have and ever will come close to matching Mourinho’s managerial feats but the majority of people will know that calling someone out in such a manner is a surefire way to fall out with them. Needless to say that, after alienating almost every member of the United squad, Mourinho was promptly sacked before the arrival of the New Year.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer returned to Old Trafford over two seasons ago, Pogba has still struggled to nail down a starting spot. The arrival of Bruno Fernandes has certainly helped the 27-year-old, who can feed off the presence of a team-mate with a similarly free spirit yet, where Fernandes has become Solskjaer’s main man, Pogba, who was signed to initially fulfil that role, has struggled to match the former’s feats.
With an occurrence almost as regular as their advertisement breaks, Sky Sports debate Pogba’s purpose at Manchester United, so it is no surprise that the midfielder eventually responded to repeated criticism from Graeme Souness by saying that: “I didn’t even know who he was, really”.
In the same way his playing style divides opinion, so does this comment. If this was an intentional ploy from Pogba to put the Scot back in his place, then it’s one of the greatest comebacks in football history.
Where his career goes from here is as much of an enigma as the player’s own performances. There is more to come and whether it involves bust-ups, belters or a move abroad, there is no arguing that Paul Pogba is pure box-office.
The charismatic, controversial and crazy character that he is has seen him totally re-invent the footballing sphere. He has created a whole new scene, living in his very own Madchester world.