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Eggs in one basket: Record Pogba purchase a defining decision for Mourinho’s Man Utd?

| 08.08.2016

Holly Thackeray | July 29, 2016

Red Devils to smash world transfer record

It looks now to be only a matter of days, hours or even minutes before Manchester United officially announce what is set to be not only a top club fee, but a new world record transfer for Juventus and France midfielder Paul Pogba.

Les Bleus prodigy Pogba is expected to pen a deal that will tie him to Old Trafford long-term, with the pricetag now believed to be around £95m – easily surpassing United’s previous most expensive addition Angel Di Maria for £59.7m two summers ago.

Italy Soccer Serie A

Real Madrid’s £86m raid on Tottenham for Gareth Bale in 2013 is also about to be blown out of the water.

Former Golden Boy award recipient Pogba will become new Man Utd manager Jose Mourinho’s fourth signing since his own arrival at Old Trafford in the off-season, with the Red Devils having already added centre back Eric Bailly, playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and free agent striking superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic to their ranks.

Mourinho tying fate to Pogba transfer

Whether that proves the end of the Portuguese’s shopping spree remains to be seen, and pundits will rightly question the Mancunian club’s transfer policy after Pogba first left United for playing time in Turin back in 2013 for a paltry compensation fee. But, the powerful Premier League giants seem to care little for sparing blushes.

The burning question is not if bringing their prodigal son back to the Northwest is embarrassing, as it was clear Man Utd management made a mistake when Pogba first pulled on Juve’s black and white striped shirt, but whether this huge outlay and marque mission statement by Ed Woodward and Mourinho will prove prudent or not.

Soccer - Carling Cup - Quarter Final - Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Old Trafford

One thing is certain – Mourinho’s Red Devils reign, at the very least for this first season in the hotseat, will be defined by this deal. Many managers live and more die by their summer signings, but very few can break the bank in such a manner without huge expectations to deliver.

It looks as though ‘the Special One’ has intertwined his fate, reputation and chance for Old Trafford success with that of Pogba – a heavy burden for even the evidently self-confident 23-year-old to bear. So sure of his impending landmark purchase’s potential, Mourinho has much riding on the performances of the soon-to-be world’s most expensive player.

China Soccer Manchester United

Opposition fans and the Old Trafford faithful will expect showings in line with the eye-watering fee, especially when they themselves have such significant outlays for ever more expensive tickets. The Man Utd hierarchy are patient, but how long will good will last if performances and results are lacking, with a £95m expenditure to justify?

Pogba yet to shine on biggest stages

There is no doubting Pogba’s promise and ability to become the world’s best in his position, with all the tools to play like an all-round midfield powerhouse – but he isn’t yet the finished product.

Still prone to bouts of inconsistency, especially for his nation and on the bigger stages, Man Utd are not buying a polished Galactico like Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale. The Old Trafford transfer committee need have only looked to Euro 2016, where France were unable to defeat Portugal in a final on home soil.

Portugal v France - UEFA Euro 2016 - Final - Stade de France

As the poster boy and headline act for Les Bleus, Pogba was unable to break down the Navigators just like his less expensive peers, with few standout moments in the tournament as a whole. The signs were there, of course, with long-range rifles blasted over, moments of skill, precision and power in his own half, a couple of crosses and the odd goal.

Yet, something still lacked; that extra ingredient which allows an audience to know they are watching one of the greatest. This should still come, but it isn’t in Pogba’s locker yet and the Premier League is no Serie A. In an unforgiving climate, he will soon remember his physicality is not an edge in England.

EURO 2016 - Final Portugal vs France

Still, the Red Devils (3/1 with Coral to win the Premier League title) will be more than aware that their prestige has taken a battering, and £95m is the going rate for the next big thing in football, with even a cool £150m now unlikely to capture a bona fide superstar.

Is there a position for Pogba?

Another concern is that Pogba is at his best with less responsibility. Not quite a number 10 or eight, but a box-to-box, attack-minded threat that thrives in a midfield trio, the Frenchman suits a freer role than he may find in Manchester.

All the signs point to Mourinho being yet another manager to shoehorn captain Wayne Rooney into his starting XI, as the forward supporting Ibrahimovic in a 4-2-3-1, meaning Pogba would be pushed deep. The all-action engine room dynamo was of course deployed next to fellow mooted Man Utd target Blaise Matuidi further back for France, but we’ve seen how that hampered his instincts.

Soccer - UEFA Europa League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Athletic Bilbao v Manchester United - San Mames

A potential partnering with compatriot Morgan Schneiderlin is appealing in front of the defence, but this combination lacks the ability to unlock from deep without a Michael Carrick style conductor.

At his best, Pogba had Andrea Pirlo to do that for him in Piedmont. While, Rooney’s inclusion makes for a rather blunt central threat between the trio, with plenty of dynamism but not much in the way of elegance or intelligence.

Soccer Euro 2016 France

If you are going to shell out such extortionate fees for a star in the making, you have to provide him with the platform to succeed.

Crucially with Pogba’s arrival, others may also consequently become expendable, as rumours do the rounds that Mourinho will sanction the loans and sales of as many as nine squad members to make space and recoup a little cash for the record-breaking reunion.

Cull could lead to repeat of Pogba problem

Bastian Schweinsteiger is believed to be number one on the list of outgoings from Old Trafford and, though injuries meant he contributed little last season, the Germany World Cup winner showed what he still had to offer in France.

Not always a starter, but an authoritative organiser with great awareness and still a silky pass or two in him – sitting the decorated Die Mannschaft man deeper instead of simply offloading him would make much sense.

Youngsters Adnan Januzaj, Will Keane, James Wilson, Andreas Pereira, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Tim Fosu-Mensah, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair are tipped to be the remaining eight either primed for a permanent exit or shipped off on loan.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Crystal Palace v Manchester United - Selhurst Park

Those latter names will do little to dispel Mourinho’s reputation of neglecting youth and allowing other clubs to develop potential stars for the Blues when at Chelsea.

Particularly, allowing impressive Borthwick-Jackson to leave on loan while plumping for Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind to play understudy to left back Luke Shaw instead, looks a potential oversight.

While, the names of midfielders Fosu-Mensah (though he has played mostly in defence for the senior squad) and Pereira being on the mooted list is also troubling.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United - Barclays Premier League - White Hart Lane

It was Sir Alex Ferguson’s favouring of out-of-position players and those with a doubtful future at Old Trafford over playing Pogba that is thought to have contributed to his departure – an error that has proven more costly than could have been imagined.

If Man Utd (13/2 to retain the FA Cup) aren’t careful, top prospects Fosu-Mensah and Pereira, who have just one and two years left on their contracts respectively, could soon seek new options in a similar way if they do well on loan – having shown more promise than some senior players.

Splashing out millions to get them back in the future and failing to learn from the Pogba predicament would really start to look negligent a second or third time around.


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Holly Thackeray

Holly is a member of the content team, and can often be found on the sports desk writing about favourite topics Serie A and East Asian footballing nations. A recent darts convert, she is also a fully-fledged member of Barney's Army and a proud Leeds-born Manchester United fan.