Four years after letting him walk out the door, Manchester United look set to welcome Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford at the cost of the small matter of 120 million euros ($132 million), just 119 million euros ($131 million) more than it received from Juventus for the then 19-year-old in 2012. A transfer saga that has dominated the summer rumor mill looks like being at an end, with respected French publication L’Equipe reporting on Wednesday night that a deal had been struck between the two clubs.
It is a fee that smashes the previous transfer record, set when Real Madrid paid Tottenham 100 million euros ($110 million) for Gareth Bale three years ago. While those involved at the time, namely then manager Sir Alex Ferguson, contest the line that United allowed Pogba to leave, instead pointing to the actions of agent Mino Raiola, there can be no question that the midfielder’s departure has proved unimaginably costly for the English giants.
Ferguson failed to hand Pogba a single Premier League start, despite his obvious prodigious talent and the fact that Manchester United’s midfield was far from world-beating at the time. Yet the following season, he played 27 Serie A games for a Juventus side that won the title. Ever since, he has been an integral part of a team that has gone onto make it five titles in a row and reach the Champions League final in 2015.
United, meanwhile, has not gone beyond the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League since his departure and has won just one league title since 2013. While Pogba has been showcasing the abilities that make him potentially one of the most multi-talented and dominant midfielders the game has seen, United was paying nearly 30 million pounds ($40 million) for Marouane Fellaini.
But just because errors have been made in the past doesn’t mean it is a mistake to splash out to rectify them now. Jose Mourinho was desperate to bring Pogba to Chelsea a year ago and wanted Manchester United to do everything it could to sign him once he took over at Old Trafford this summer. It now appears that United’s decision to fully flex its muscles as one of the world’s richest clubs has seen off competition from Real Madrid and persuaded Pogba that a return to what he called his “first family” is the best thing for his career.
For Juventus, losing one of its key performers is an enormous blow but it is not hard to understand why United’s offer proved too good to turn down. For all his undeniable talent, Pogba, after all isn’t the finished article just yet.
As he showed during Euro 2016 with France, the 23-year-old can still drift in and out of games and struggle to fit into a coach’s system. He can do everything – tackle, run, dribble, pass, shoot – but figuring out what position and system gets the best out of him remains something of a conundrum.
Arguably, though, it is just the sort of a problem that is a coach’s dream. Handed a player with all the talent in the world and simply tasked with molding it.
Mourinho, a coach who prioritizes efficiency above everything else, could be the perfect man to turn flashes of brilliance into the dominant midfielder Manchester United has been crying out for for more than a decade. If he proves to be that, then, in a market when even average players are going for what were previously eye-popping fees, he will prove to be money well spent.