It is fair to say that Paul Pogba’s move to Manchester United has not worked out as planned. When the midfielder signed from Juventus for €105 million in the summer of 2016, he became the most expensive player ever. On the pitch, however, he has yet to live up to the billing.
Now, in his second season back at Old Trafford, Pogba has shown signs of his obvious talent, yet there has always been the feeling that there is much more to come from the France international.
And there should be. At the age of 24, the player is approaching his best years. However, with tensions rising between the midfielder and United manager Jose Mourinho in recent weeks, there are now concerns over his long-term future at the club.
Pogba believes he is being played out of position by Mourinho, with the Portuguese sticking to what he thinks is best for the team as cracks in their relationship have started to surface.
The player, who is back in United’s squad for the Champions League clash against Sevilla on Wednesday after missing United’s FA Cup win over Huddersfield through illness, is already being linked with a potential summer switch to Real Madrid, with L’Equipe reporting that he regrets moving to Manchester and not Spain in 2016. Here, Goal takes a closer look at the current situation…
REAL MADRID TRIED TO SIGN POGBA IN 2016
Real Madrid were frontrunners to sign Pogba from Juventus in the summer of 2016 and Los Blancos did attempt to bring in the midfielder. Ultimately, however, they decided against a move.
Zinedine Zidane’s side had just won the Champions League and pushed Barcelona close in La Liga following a spectacular second half of the season. And, with a one-year transfer ban which was later reduced to a single window hanging over the club, it looked as if there would be plenty of movement that summer.
The French coach was asked about his compatriot during Real’s pre-season tour and he said. “Do I like Pogba? Of course, he’s a very good player and every club wants the best players but right now he’s at Juve and we have a large squad already.”
With no bids for James Rodriguez, and Pogba’s price pushed up by the demands of his agent Mino Raiola, with whom Madrid do not like to negotiate, it was decided in the end that in excess of €100m was too much money for a player who was not really even needed at Real.
Zidane was also happy with Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro as his first-choice midfield trio, with Isco, James and Mateo Kovacic all in reserve. And, although the club considered selling James and even Isco, there were no suitable bids for either player. So, Madrid did not pursue Pogba and he joined United instead.
POGBA’S CURRENT ‘CRISIS’ AT MAN UTD
Pogba’s position at United has proved to be a bone of contention between the player and his manager. The player has long claimed his best position is on the left of the midfield three, but he is being used by Mourinho in a two-man midfield in a 4-2-3-1 system.
That means he is often in a deeper role than he would like and, as witnessed with France in Euro 2016, such a position does not allow the player to operate in the areas where he can cause the most damage.
Performances in recent weeks have been poor. Pogba was taken off after 63 minutes of the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham, before featuring as a substitute in the win over Huddersfield in the league and then producing another indifferent display in the 1-0 loss at Newcastle.
“I remember clearly, without television but just with my memory from the touchline, a Newcastle player jumping and two of my players looking at him and staying on the floor,” Mourinho said after that game, in reference to Nemanja Matic and Pogba, and their role in the match’s decisive goal.
The Portuguese also praised United youngster Scott McTominay at the weekend in what appeared to be another dig at Pogba. “I think maybe it’s because he [McTominay] is this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” he said after the FA Cup win at Huddersfield.
Public criticism of his players has not always worked well for Mourinho in the past and, although he believes he is right about a system in which he has an array of attackers – including Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata – fighting for four spots, with not many midfielders of the same quality, the United boss will also need to ensure he is not alienating the club’s most expensive player.
HOW REALISTIC IS POGBA TO REAL MADRID?
Real Madrid are somewhat in limbo at the moment following a year of extraordinary success in 2017 when the club claimed five trophies, including a second successive Champions League crown and a first Liga title since 2012.
Although the squad remains strong, the departure of Alvaro Morata to Chelsea last summer left a significant hole in the attack – exacerbated by Karim Benzema’s poor form – and signing a new striker will be one of the priorities in the next transfer window.
With Gareth Bale often injured and Cristiano Ronaldo now 33, Madrid will also be looking to bring in another forward player some time in the next couple of years, while Los Blancos also want to sign a new goalkeeper and a right-back as competition – and cover – for Dani Carvajal in the summer.
In midfield, however, it seems less likely the club will make a major signing. Modric is 32 and will eventually need to be replaced, but is still at the peak of his powers, while Zidane remains happy with Kroos and Casemiro.
Isco and Marco Asensio have both signed new deals, while more will be expected of Dani Ceballos in his second season as well. So, even though Pogba has his admirers at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Zidane and Florentino Perez among them, there still appears to be no need to splash out in excess of €100m – around one third of the club’s transfer budget for the summer – on a midfielder at this point.
On top of that, it is unclear whether Zidane will continue beyond this summer. Whether he does or not, Madrid will continue to track Pogba and a transfer cannot be ruled out in future. This summer, however, a move seems unlikely.