Manchester United are super-rich, and they are on the verge of signing Paul Pogba for over 100 million pounds. What’s the problem?
United’s (football) stocks nose-dived following three disastrous seasons under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. They are very keen to get back to where they belong with the game’s first ever nine-figure transfer, which tames Gareth Bale’s world record 85.3-million-pound move to Real Madrid in 2013. What’s the problem?
United have been bereft of an imposing box-to-box midfielder ever since Roy Keane left the club in acrimonious circumstances in November 2005. New manager Jose Mourinho has picked Pogba to fill the long-standing void, transfer amount notwithstanding. United owners, the Glazer family, and the club’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward are ready to get the chequebook out for the 23-year-old Frenchman. So what’s the problem?
Football, any top sport for that matter, thrives in its burgeoning wealth. Premier League clubs will share 8.3 billion pounds between them, thanks to the new broadcast deals. United are desperate to make a statement after three years of virtual inaction. A club of their size requires a super-signing to be on par with other global giants like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. It’s strange that a financial behemoth like United didn’t have a global superstar since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Santiago Bernabeu in 2009 for 80 million pounds. The move for Pogba is a show of intent from the world’s most popular football institution.
Moyes and Van Gaal had created problems. Mourinho has identified problems and brought in solutions. United now have an on-pitch leader in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a creative midfielder in Henrikh Mkhitaryan and a strong centre-half in Eric Bailly. The new manager is expected to be in the market for another right-sided defender, but Pogba would be the jewel in the crown when he arrives.
Four years ago, Pogba had left Old Trafford in tears. Juventus got him for 800,000 pounds. Pogba was frustrated over a lack of first-team football under Sir Alex Ferguson. The legendary boss, in turn, blamed the player’s agent Mino Raiola. “We had Paul under a three-year contract, and it had a one-year renewal option which we were eager to sign. Raiola suddenly appeared on the scene and our first meeting was a fiasco. He and I were like oil and water. From then our goose was cooked because Raiola had been able to integrate himself with Paul and his family and the player signed with Juventus,” Ferguson wrote in his book Leading.
That, however, was a different period, bearing no resemblance to Woodward and Mourinho. Pogba has blossomed into one of world’s finest midfielders, playing a pivotal role in Juventus’ unabashed domestic success—four successive Serie A titles. He didn’t have a very good Euro 2016 with France, but that was just an aberration after a long and hectic season.
Looks like Mourinho has managed to get under the skin of some of his counterparts by all but securing the Pogba transfer. Arsene Wenger, Mourinho’s bête noire, has described the move “completely crazy”.
“It is completely crazy if you compare it to normal life. That is for sure. But we live in a world where every activity that is worldwide makes a lot of money.
“Football has become a worldwide competition and that is why clubs can afford to do it. Does it make sense in the way the player can give you that investment back? Nobody ever could calculate,” he said.
Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp claimed he would quit football if money ever becomes the single most important factor to determine success and failure on the pitch. “…If you bring one player in for 100 million pounds or whatever, and he gets injured, then it all goes through the chimney. Do I have to do it differently to that? Actually, I want to do it differently. I would even do it differently if I could spend that money. I want a special team spirit… I don’t feel it is necessary, I want it.
“You can’t say at the end, only 11 best players will play together and let’s see what happens. The day that this is football, I’m not in a job anymore. Because the game is about playing together.”
Wenger and Klopp are entitled to their opinion, but as Oliver Holt rightly pointed out in his Daily Mail column, would they turn down the offer to sign a 100-million-pound player if their respective club owners roll the cash? Pogba is not a game-changer like Lionel Messi, Ronaldo or Luis Suarez. But he is the rich man’s Claude Makelele—the most vital cog in the wheel. And given that Juventus forked out 76 million pounds for Gonzalo Higuain, Pogba’s fee looks logical.
The Premier League title is likely to be wide open this term as well. Leicester City will have to overcome huge odds again to defend their crown.
Mourinho at United, Klopp at Liverpool, Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Antonio Conte at Chelsea and Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur make this season’s competition even more intense and high profile. Mourinho gives United teeth to attack. Pogba’s arrival will make them title favourites.