December 31st 2011 is a day that many United fans won’t want to remember. Manchester United had just thumped Fulham and Wigan – both by a five nil scoreline – and would be entering the New Year’s eve fixture, against Blackburn Rovers, full of confidence – in the knowledge that they were undefeated in the league, since the infamous 6-1 thumping by Manchester City a few months previous. Turns out – Wayne Rooney, Darron Gibson and Jonny Evans wouldn’t play a part in the fixture having been out on a night on the tiles on the boxing day.
That Blackburn Rovers fixture..
An already depleted home side were forced to play with players out of position. Michael Carrick slotted in at centre half whilst Brazilian Rafael and Ji-Sung Park formed a not so formidable centre midfield duo. Sir Alex Ferguson had opted to play the established pair, ahead of the up and coming Paul Pogba – who was sat on the bench for the entire match. United went on to lose the tie by 3-2 and would eventually go on to lose the league title to Manchester City, on goal difference.
Pogba would only play a handful of games for United [he never started a game] and departed for Juventus in the summer of 2012 – in the same fashion as his arrival. Ferguson didn’t seem too fussed at the time and stated that the young Frenchman did not show “any respect” [towards United] in the build up to his move. Juventus’ midfielder would later cite that it was the Blackburn Rovers game, which would leave him “disgusted“, by the manager’s decision to leave him out of the side [in favour of two players that usually play as full back back or wide]. At 19 years of age, the player that Manchester United had fought so hard for when at Le Havre, was to leave having made five substitute appearances.
I had the pleasure of watching Pogba on two occasions in the FA Youth Cup of 2010/11 – against West Ham United away (1-0 United win) and at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea (United lost 3-2) in what was the first leg of the semi final. The game that stands out for me always when looking at Pogba playing for Juve or for Les Blues is that at Stamford Bridge. Pogba was different class in the second half (with United 2-0 down) and dragged the game by the scruff of his neck. His Zidane like pirouette to effortlessly glide across the turf and away from the bemused Chelsea defenders was a joy to watch. The young Frenchman scored a header and United would take a one goal deficit into the return leg at Old Trafford. United won the fixture 4-0 (6-3 on aggregate), with Will Keane scoring a hattrick and Ravel Morrison scoring the other, however – without Pogba’s leadership and technique – Chelsea could have been out of sight.
From Juventus to a French International
The Old Lady got themselves a real bargain with Pogba. Since his arrival, Juventus have won four Serie A titles, two Coppa Italia cups and reached the final of the 2015 Champions League – where the Bianconeri lost 3-1 to Lionel Messi and Barcelona. He has scored 33 goals in 128 games for the Turin club, not a bad return for a player of only 23 years. His performances and rise to one of Europe’s hottest midfield properties ensured that he was given a new contract by the Italian champions – which keeps him at the club until 2019.
Having made his full senior debut for France in 2013, in the 3-1 win over Georgia, he last cap [38 all in all now] was of course the shock 1-0 defeat against Portugal in the final of Euro 2016. Many reds were pleased to see ex-United players Nani and Ronaldo lift the trophy, despite Portugal being quite an ugly team to watch throughout the tournament, but many were expecting a French win – with Pogba, Evra and Martial all to finish as the victors.
Even with Ronaldo limping off after a heavy, but fair, challenge from Dimitri Payet – France never really looked as confident or as composed as they had done three days earlier against Germany. It could have been so different had Antoine Griezmann converted Kingsley Coman’s cross – however, it wasn’t to be. Pogba, it must be said, let the game pass him by and the dazzling foot work or the long through passes weren’t on show. The Juventus midfield was outshone by Blaise Matuidi and Mohamed Sissoko and rarely threaten. Despite his poor showing in the final, Pogba’s stock has risen even more so and is now being linked with moves to Real Madrid and Manchester United. But have we not been here before?
Is Pogba using United link to usher Real Madrid into action?
Over the past few seasons, the steady ship that was being sailed by Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill is at the bottom of the ocean following an imploding cannonball blunder under the regimes of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. New boss Jose Mourinho has started the ship recovery phase, with the early signings of Eric Bailey, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Pogba is definitely a player admired by Mourinho and the fact that the Frenchman would become the most costly player in the history of football – would not be a deterrent. However, would Paul Pogba want to move to a club without Champions League football next season? Would he want to go back to a club where he was “disgusted” by his place on the bench for one fixture? Would he want to sign for European Champions Real Madrid and play with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and fellow countryman Karim Benzema?
We’ve heard reports this evening that Pogba’s agent has stated there is “no rush” for his client to move away from Turin. It is suggested that the youngsters ideal destination is indeed Real Madrid, but former Juventus star Alessandro Del Piero also spoke about his current club’s desire to hold on to him. Mino Raiola is playing the game as he is supposed to and has stated that “many clubs” are after the services of Pogba. One shining light for United fans hoping to see Pogba at Old Trafford this season is that Raiola is also the agent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Mourinho’s latest signing.
Sergio Ramos, Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas have all used United’s name in the build up to either a contract extension or move away to another club – is Paul Pogba doing the same OR will Jose Mourinho convince the young star that Old Trafford is where his future lies and to help the club get back to the pinnacle of European Football? Let hope the New Year’s celebrations at the end of 2016 are a little more happier than those of half a decade ago.