Manchester United would not be getting the finished article in Paul Pogba but that should be a cause for excitement rather than concern. From his early days at Old Trafford through to his years in Italy, the Pogba story is one of continual improvement, writes Adam Bate.
Jose Mourinho has already had a taste of the noise that can surround Manchester United. So many club legends, so many opinions. As Mourinho put it, these icons have the opportunity to “create a more difficult situation” given the influence that they wield.
Perhaps it was Paul Scholes who Mourinho had in mind given that the United great had recently spoken out over the proposed fee to be paid to bring Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford. “I just don’t think he is worth £86m,” said Scholes, in typically forthright fashion.
“For that sort of money, you want someone who is going to score 50 goals a season like Ronaldo or Messi. Pogba is nowhere near there yet.” Understandably, the headlines followed. But perhaps the key word in that sentence was the last one. Nowhere near there yet.
For while Pogba’s talent has never been in doubt, not since well before he arrived United from Le Havre as a 16-year-old in 2009, his tale is one of hard work too. Hours spent in the gym and on the training ground, and the continuous improvement that those efforts have brought.
Speaking recently to Pogba’s old youth coach at United, Paul McGuinness, it’s clear that not everyone is so concerned about the player not yet being the finished article. “You can’t be that at 23,” McGuinness told Sky Sports. “So you’re paying for the potential.”
For McGuinness, that “potential is massive” for Pogba to become a “special player”. In fact, the excitement over Pogba’s possible arrival should partly be because he isn’t at the top of his game yet. Especially given that the Frenchman has a history of surpassing even high expectations.
Former United player Gary Neville is among many who have pointed out that Pogba wasn’t considered quite as good as Ravel Morrison among the group that McGuinness took to FA Youth Cup success in 2011. But while Morrison has made little impact at Lazio, Pogba has emerged as a star at Juventus.
Again, the theme has been one of progress. “Pogba is a great player,” Juve icon Alessandro Del Piero told Sky Sports last year. “He has a rare talent and is unique. He has great mobility and technique, combined with an impressive physicality. And he is improving.”
Pogba arrived in Italy as someone who, according to McGuinness, “would float out of games and whose positional play wouldn’t quite be there” but there were positive signs as well. He scored five times, picked up a Serie A winners’ medal but was learning along the way.
“That first year in Turin wasn’t all easy for Pogba,” recalls Valentina Fass, a reporter for Sky in Italy. “He had to learn to combine talent with discipline. Antonio Conte famously didn’t line him up for a match (against Pescara) because he had been late to two training sessions.
“But the strong relationship he built with some of the French speakers in the team helped him. There were guys like Patrice Evra and, more recently, Mario Lemina. From the second season onwards he became part of the first team and started to grow and improve year on year.”
He has been used as a regista operating in front of the defence, was given the No 10 shirt in 2015, and was even asked to play from the left side at times – a victim of his own versatility. But it also brought a completeness. Pogba has developed throughout all of these experiences.