Manchester United’s move for Paul Pogba in an £89 million deal that sees the world transfer fee record broken shows United mean serious business this season.
Jose Mourinho’s cream of the crop acquisition concludes a hugely successful and ambitious forage into the market for players of the highest quality as he looks to galvanise an unstable squad and ensure they can go toe to toe with Pep Guardiola’s new look Manchester City team
Big names have flattered to deceive in the brutally difficult environment of English football, with Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao leaving Old Trafford as quickly as they came. These players came in for huge transfer sums and wages, and left having justified very little. The question is; will Pogba follow the same road?
He arrives at Old Trafford having developed into one of Europe’s most potent midfielders alongside the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. With four Serie A titles accrued in four years since he left Manchester to show for it, he has built a case to be one of the current days best midfielders.
When he was sold to Juve for £1.5million in 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson commented that the players agent bore a huge influence on the then 19-year-old, installing in him a self confidence, almost arrogance, that Ferguson felt was unjustified.
Ferguson said “We had Paul under a three year contract, and it had a one-year renewal option which we were eager to sign. But Raiola suddenly appeared on the scene and our first meeting was a fiasco.”
Now that he is here, will he be a success?
Having spent his late teens developing under United’s academy staff, there is no doubt Pogba has the physical attributes to compete in the Premier League. Formation-wise, Mourinho will look to integrate the Frenchman into his holding midfield line, Alongside Michael Carrick, or Morgan Schneiderlin, his box to box style and his ability to pick a pass within seconds of receiving possession, makes him a perfect blend of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, indicating just why United signed him from Le Havre in 2009.
However, Pogba operates effectively at the top of the deep lying midfield. His marauding attack was engineered by Vidal and Pirlo sitting behind him, shoring up the opposition and allowing him freedom to roam. At United, with a 4-2-3-1 formation, playing as a number 6 rather than a 10 may inhibit his progress up the pitch, with more defensive work required of him than he is used to.
This theory can be backed up by his performances at Euro 2016. Sat alongside Blaise Matuidi in the deep, he looked less like the lynchpin his club performances demonstrated, often overshadowed by the exploits of Antoine Griezmann. Urged forward, he was caught too far, and teams broke against the defence, leaving just Matuidi to cover. Should it be the same story at United, he will struggle.
Where does it leave Wayne Rooney?
The captain seemed to flourish at Euro’s (as much as any Englishman could during the tournament) in a defensive midfield role, but now seems set to revert to a number ten as Pogba comes into the deep position at Old Trafford.
Questions have long been raised over his ability to perform as an attacker to the level he was producing around five years ago, but Mourinho’s insistence that his captain shall become his primary number ten draws speculation that his best performances are still ahead of him. However, learning a new role as Rooney is, it begs the question of the other attackers Mourinho has at his disposal. He must select two of Jesse Lingard, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial to play the wide roles in a decision the Portugese manager could have put to bed had he elected to play Rooney in a deeper role he seemed to have shown a natural talent for.
Is he worth it?
For Pogba, he has had his moments of total dominance, net-busting screamers and tactical brilliance. When in the right role, he has excelled, he has seemed confident and ready for battle. Though his controversial methods of forcing through his transfers to United in 2009 and to Juvé in 2012, led by his contentious agent, surely suggest a period of maturing still awaits. Mourinho will not stand for petulance, should Pogba show any, but will endeavour to get the best out of a young man who, it is claimed, can dominate at the highest level for decade.
He is yet to stamp his authority on the game in the same manner than previous record holders Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo have before their respected moves. But he could be the greatest, no doubt. It all counts on him to perform.