The spun-out, cryptic and at times monotonous return of Paul Pogba has finally come to a close. One of the finest talents to come through the prestigious academy is returning back to Manchester in a chunky red Chevrolet.
However this summer’s saga pales in comparison to when we first signed the Frenchman from Le Harve, a transfer which ran from July through to October 2009. Le Harve claimed Pogba was illegally snatched from their grasp as the president of the club claimed United lured him away with an unethical offer of £87,000 and a house.
It reached a point where United threatened to sue Le Harve over the claims being made. However, after a lot of speculation, a FIFA judge ruled in favour of United resulting in both sides coming to an agreement and Paul Pogba becoming a Manchester United player. Whether that deal had any further renumeration towards Le Harve further down the line, remains to be seen.
Early on at United he was an immediate regular at under-18 level. Ripples of excitement surrounded the Frenchman who supposedly had the body of Viera but the feet of Ronaldo. Some even said he was worth the legal hassle it cost the club to sign him, which I found hard to believe at the time.
But like so many players from Manchester United’s illustrious history, Pogba really came to the fore during the FA Youth Cup. Go back to a cold January night at Altrincham’s Moss Lane, 2011. It was the first time I’d seen Pogba properly play and it was the third round of the Youth Cup as United faced Portsmouth.
During the game Gyliano van Velzen (remember him) played the ball back to Pogba at the edge of the box, he then peeled off to make a run for the return ball. Pogba ignored this, spanking the ball first time, bending it into the top corner from around 30-yards. Scoring goals like that for Manchester United at any level certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.
I recall making my way round to Stretford End going into a home game in 2011. Over a season when you walk through the South stand tunnel, you usually see your fair share of familiar faces from Manchester United as well as the odd ones from Coronation Street. I saw Paul Pogba, he was sauntering about with around five of his friends speaking French who seemed to have the same swagger as him.
‘Look that’s Paul Pogba there, he’s going to be some player, but he’s got nothing on Ravel Morrison…’ I told my Mum, with confidence. It’s funny to think of the attention he’d receive now walking through thousands of reds on a match day.
The stand out game I always remember from Pogba’s time at United is the FA Youth Cup semi-final tie at Stamford Bridge that same year. His game had become so much more cutting edge, skills became more effective, he threw his weight about more and nearly every shot he took was 50mph and on target.
United lost the game 3-2 in what was the first-leg of the semi-final. However Pogba was the stand out man that game and more importantly, he was generating a name for himself at the club. One piece of skill I remember him doing was a roulette which ended with a thunderous shot at goal only for it to be saved well by the keeper. But the United support sat up and took notice, it was clear how talented this kid was.
“We all agree, Paul Pogba is better than Drogba,” we ironically chanted in the sun drenched away end at Stamford Bridge that day. Little did we know what was once tongue in cheek would soon become reality. Barney Ronay of The Guardian had this to say looking back on his match report from that game; United have the better record [than Chelsea] in bringing through youth team players, Pogba was their leading light here.
Pogba’s exploits from the 2010-11 season saw him promoted to the reserve team and predictably, he was on Sir Alex’s radar the next season. Appearing at Elland Road of all places to make his first team debut. He was typically unfazed by the hostile Yorkshire atmosphere and imposed himself on the game well.
With Pogba, age was only a number, this lad was 18 and physically he acted like someone who was 28. Despite the obvious ego, his talents preceded any doubts over whether this would affect his future career. He deserved the game-time he craved and there was no resentment from my part towards Pogba or in regards to his departure.
However in saying that footballers at that age are so volatile, you never know what can happen. You predict big things for some players and nine times out of 10 it never materialises. Just look at the name mentioned earlier, Ravel Morrison, he was in the same bracket as Pogba at United around that time and he excited me just as much. Wythenshawe’s answer to Lionel Messi? How wrong I was.
But when it comes to Pogba he had the courage to leave and prove himself elsewhere. It is the measure of the man’s personality to return to the club that once let him go. I’ve seen what Pogba can do, and what he can bring to the side first hand. He has gone from strength to strength, nothing seems to phase him and the price tag on his shoulders certainly won’t be any exception.
Put into perspective, releasing a player for £800,000 and buying them back 4 years later for £89,000,000 isn’t the best bit of business the club’s ever managed. However this is football we are talking about, an industry where you can be openly racist and still be club captain the next week. Where you can be awful at your job, and still land a better position as manager of Belgium the next month. Football doesn’t do normal. Welcome back Paul.