I once joked to a friend that the case of Paul Pogba is the greatest custody battle since “Kramer vs Kramer”. While that comment might have been a bit tongue-in-cheek, the fact is that one would be hard pressed to find a more high-profile case of a player constantly moving or being linked between the same two clubs.
An extremely polarizing figure within the fan base of the Bianconeri and the Red Devils, there is a section within both groups that love him and get excited at the thought of him being part of their club. On the other hand, there is also a section of fans within both groups that feel that he is not worth the risk/investment and would rather their club move away from him.
When it comes to Pogba, perspective is extremely important in the judging process. It is true that overall, he has been unable to live up to expectations at Old Trafford, however it would be unfair to place the blame completely on the player. While on the one hand some of the criticisms aimed at him are warranted, it is easy to overlook other variables that also need to be given their due attention.
It is a common misconception that during his time at Juventus, Pogba was the lynch pin of the team. While the potential was there for him to develop over time to take up that mantle, the fact is that it was Pirlo that was the creative spark in that midfield. Additionally, Pogba was part of a midfield that along with Pirlo’s artistry, had the energy, work rate and guile of Vidal and Marchisio. On top of that there were leaders of the caliber of Buffon, Chiellini, Barzagli, Marchisio etc to guide him both on and off the pitch. Thus, with such a support group in place, Pogba was given the freedom to express himself on the field, since he was well protected. Truth be told, even back then there were regular mistakes that he made during the course of a game, perhaps more so than he does now. However, those mistakes weren’t as magnified as they are during his current stint at United since there were others who would cover for him. Thus, he did not have the added pressure on his shoulder that he does at present.
Unfortunately, he moved to United during a time when the club had entered a period of transition that it still finds itself in today. One that lacks the strong personalities of years gone by. Walking into such an environment he was positioned as the central piece around whom the squad was to be built. At 23, a role he hadn’t yet played in his professional career. Add to that the price tag and hype surrounding his return to Old Trafford and thus the pressure was that much more compounded.
Perhaps in an alternate universe, had Pogba moved back to a Manchester Untied with Sir Alex at the helm and one that could count on stalwarts like Giggs, Ferdinand, Neville etc, he would have had a cushioned environment similar to his time in Turin and in the process develop into a more dependable performer. Unfortunately, one can only play the cards they are delt.
While the above mentioned factors were out of the player’s control, he cannot be completely absolved of blame, especially when it comes to issues of his own making. The hard fact is that Pogba comes with a significant set of baggage, with the biggest being his agent. While the general narrative is that “agents only look out for what is best for their clients”, in the present day, said narrative has proved to be more of an excuse for the so called super agents to create a chaotic environment where clubs can be exploited. Call me old school, but like many, I am of the opinion that agents have way too much power in the present game, so much so that it wouldn’t be entirely wrong for one to regard “Super Agents” akin to the investment bankers that caused the Subprime Crisis a decade earlier. Hence for any club looking to sign Pogba in the future, it would be imperative for them to make peace with the fact that it is not just the player they would be signing but his agent as well.
With all these variables taken into consideration, bringing Pogba back to Turin could still be considered a risk worth taking for the Bianconeri. As for one thing he would definitely be an upgrade to any of the midfield personnel currently on the club’s books. Secondly the fact that he would be returning to an environment that got the best out of him under the tutelage of many of the same mentors may just be the foundation needed for him to reignite his fast fading potential. One just needs to look at the case of Morata in order to understand that sometimes when things are not going well it helps to get back to your comfort zone.
Finally, the Bianconeri might be the only club capable of dealing with the baggage that comes with his agent, having been able to develop something resembling a “positive” relationship with Raiola over the years. With a number of his clients having adorned the Black & White - a list that not only includes Pogba, De Ligt, Matuidi etc but also current vice chairman, Pavel Nedved - the Bianconeri would be best equipped to keep his shenanigans in check to some extent. Although I wouldn’t hold my breath in this regard.
Ultimately, Irrespective of what happens in the future, perhaps the one question we may never have an answer for is, in this long running custody battle between Juventus and Manchester United, who plays Meryl Streep’s role and who Dustin Hoffman’s?