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Why United only had themselves to blame for Pogba’s departure

Why United only had themselves to blame for Pogba’s departure

This evening ex-United midfielder Paul Pogba started for France in their crucial Group I top-of-the-table clash against reigning World and European Champions Spain. There has been talk amongst United fans recently as to how it would have been great if the Frenchman, a product of the renowned Clairefontaine Academy, had stayed at Old Trafford. Pogba made an acrimonious move across the Channel in the summer of 2009 from Le Havre and spent three seasons at Old Trafford before deciding to join the Italian champions last summer; the second member of the midfield triumvirate so crucial to United’s FA Youth Cup success in 2011 to leave the club. It seems the overriding sentiment amongst United fans is that the club did all they could to keep him and that the Frenchman, now establishing himself as an important part of the Juventus side, left for more money. These sentiments are no doubt fuelled by the manager’s words whilst negotiations were ongoing with Pogba:

“Matt Busby summed it up perfectly when he said that you don’t have to chase money at a club like Manchester United. It will eventually find you. You will earn money and become rich.”

Or these words from the manager on Pogba’s departure:

“I don’t think he showed us any respect at all so, to be honest, I’m quite happy.”

Now, one can’t argue with the manager’s views that young players will eventually become rich at United but his words purported that Pogba’s decision was motivated by money. There’s no disputing that the Frenchman is earning more money at Juventus than he was offered at United. But was money the primary reason for his departure? I don’t believe it was; instead it was a lack of first-team opportunities that led Pogba to decide his career prospects would be best served with the Bianconeri. Indeed, Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola – admittedly not the most trustworthy of people – hinted at the same this week:

“When Paul understood that he wasn’t being enhanced, he decided that it was over in Manchester. He felt that a move away would do him good.”

Even the staunchest of the manager’s supporters will admit that it is puzzling why he has not sought to remedy our glaring problems in central midfield over the last few transfer windows. Anderson is fast running out of chances at the club and seemingly on his way out in the summer whilst Tom Cleverley – although still young and developing – is yet to fully convince fans that he’s of the highest quality required to be a regular starter for the Reds. The continued reliance on the ageing legs of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs is not befitting of a club of United’s stature. It’s this inescapable fact which makes the lack of first team opportunities given to the young Frenchman last season puzzling. Pogba made no starts and just seven substitute appearances for the Reds last season, only three of those in the Premier League. This, despite Ferguson – in the summer of 2011 – warning of the consequences of not giving him chances in the first team:

“I mean if we hold Pogba back, what’s going to happen? He’s going to leave. You know, in a couple of years’ time, when his contract is going to finish. So we have to give him the opportunity to see how he can do in the first-team and he’s got great ability.”

So the manager was well aware of what not giving the Frenchman opportunities to showcase his talents in the first team would lead to. Yet, he chose to limit his opportunities to substitute appearances. To me, it made no sense, particularly given that central midfield is by no means an obvious position of strength for the Reds. In Pogba, United had a player who’s now sadly proving at Juventus that he could have become a cornerstone of the United first-team for the next decade; another hugely talented youngster to go with the likes of de Gea, Rafael, Smalling, Jones, Welbeck et al.

Now, a lot of United fans have highlighted that youngsters are generally eased into the United first team, pointing to the likes of Cleverley and Welbeck as supporting evidence that young players at United need to bide their time before becoming first team squad members. However, with all due respect to Cleverley and Welbeck, at the age of 18 or 19, they were nowhere near the level of Pogba. At the age of 19, Cleverley was on loan at Leicester City, Welbeck on loan at Sunderland. Pogba, on the other hand, is playing regularly for Juventus, the champions of Serie A, alongside the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Kwadwo Asamoah. For Cleverley and Welbeck, it was the correct decision to bide their time and go out on loan because they weren’t ready for the United first team at that age. Pogba, on the other hand, was and he knew himself that he was. And before anyone challenges that, think about this: if Pogba can appear regularly in Juventus’s far superior central midfield this season as well as start for France in games against the World Champions, are you really going to suggest that he wasn’t good enough to play there for United last season?

Paul Pogba in action for Manchester United

Yet for reasons that will always be unknown, Ferguson thought that Pogba should wait and wait for his chance whilst he continued to deploy the creaking bodies of Scholes and Giggs in central-midfield last season. Despite Ferguson claiming he had made assurances to the Frenchman that his time would come, it’s fairly easy to see why Pogba would not believe that it would.

Put yourself in Pogba’s position for a moment. You know that you’re good enough to be playing more regularly for United. Other top clubs are telling you that you would be starting for them. And yet, Ferguson opts to deploy Park and Rafael in central-midfield against Blackburn in December 2011; a disastrous decision that caused United to slip to a 3-2 defeat. Then Ferguson chooses to bring Paul Scholes – although a great player, a player that is way past his best – out of retirement. If you’re Pogba, you’re sitting there thinking ‘I’d do a better job than those players’ and ‘the manager doesn’t have faith in me’. Why would you believe the manager when he claims that you will play more next season? How do you know that he won’t continue to pick Scholes and Giggs ahead of you?

If anything, in terms of ability at such a young age, Pogba should be compared to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, precocious youngsters whom Ferguson had no qualms with plunging straight into first-team action. If they’re good enough, they’re old

enough. Why should a player sit in the reserves for two years waiting for regular first team games when a) they’re better than the players in front of them (and Pogba will definitely have thought this) and b) you have the chance to go and play regularly for another top club; a club that’s just gone the whole season unbeaten in the league and arguably has a better chance of winning the Champions League than United?

Not convinced by that argument? Well, here’s an analogy for you. You’ve got a job but feel you deserve a promotion as your work has been better than those above you. However, your company refuses to promote you telling you to be patient and that your time will come. Then a rival company who are very well-established in the field offer you a better job with a higher salary. The vast majority of people will take the job the rival company is offering them and no-one would really suggest they’re making a wrong decision. To me, the Pogba situation bears a remarkable similarity to the situation I’ve just described.

However, for some reason, in the world of football you get an awful load of rubbish about loyalty thrown around. Loyalty in football is a double-edged sword. Players can turn down better offers from other clubs early on in their careers in a sign of loyalty to their current club only to find that as soon as their ability’s declined, that club doesn’t think twice before showing them the door. How’s that for loyalty?

Young players are mentally fragile. They want an arm around their shoulder. They want to know the manager has faith in them. It’s understandable that Pogba would see that he’s not being given opportunities despite United’s central midfield problems and conclude that Ferguson didn’t have faith in him and that therefore his best option was to leave the club. And no-one can say Pogba made the wrong decision as he continues to move from strength to strength in Turin. With Juventus having a Champions League quarter-final tie against Bayern Munich to look forward to and on course to retain their Serie A title, the Frenchman has made twenty-eight appearances in all competitions, scoring five goals. Is anyone going to suggest he would have made the same number if he’d stayed at United? And it is these appearances which have allowed him to make the step up to international football where he looks as though he will be a starter for Les Bleus for the next decade.

And so, whilst Pogba continues to develop, looking destined to become a world-class player, United’s search for a central midfielder continues. Rumours abound that the manager has watched Celtic’s Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama who from what I’ve seen of him looks like an older, less talented, less classier version of Pogba. Sigh. The Frenchman has all the attributes to become a star: strength, pace, mobility, a good passing range and a cracking shot. There have been frequent comparisons with Patrick Vieira. He’s just what United need. And United had him only for their inability to give him enough first-team opportunities to cause him to depart. Unfortunately, despite having successfully brought through so many youngsters, on this occasion the manager only has himself to blame.

Do you agree/disagree with my views? Let me know by commenting below.

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By Sam McHale

Utd ST holder in the Stretford End. Lucky enough to be in Moscow '08, I eat, sleep and breathe football. Hoping - results permitting - to start Manchester Uni this September. You can follow me on Twitter: @Sam10McHale

12 replies on “Why United only had themselves to blame for Pogba’s departure”

Great article I was gutted when we lost out on him. He will be better than Vieira as he has more in his locker than him already at such a young age. The midfield situation has been a baffling one for some time. If we only had a better midfield we would be a dominant force in world football.
Let’s hope it’s sorted and we don’t rue the one that got away too much.

I’m amazed Pogba wasn’t given more chances by Man Utd. He’s been superb, and a real bargain at Juve. A great all round footballer who has shown he can cover different midfield roles throughout the season.

I can only assume there was something behind the scenes Sir Alex wasn’t keen on. because ability wise he’d walk into nearly every midfield on the planet right now.

There was also the 2mil kickback that his agent pocketed by pimping him out to Juve and he would not have got that if Pogba had resigned with Utd, money talks.

Nice article. But I found myself thinking fairly early on, do you not think Pogba and Ferguson had an altercation earlier on, I.e. before, or at the start of his final season and before the game against Blackburn in December 2011?
Time and time again Fergie has proved no player is bigger than the club, especially not an unproven youngster, albeit with huge potential.

You make some fair points and some of them are reflected in an article I wrote the other day on how we need to ensure Januzaj gets a fair crack to avoid the same thing happening in his case (

However, a lot of this rests on an acceptance of Pogba’s account. Fergie’s got an exemplary record on how to bring through young players and I’m not convinced by Pogba’s pleas that it wasn’t about money. It looked to me like he and his agent were playing off the two clubs for what they could get – otherwise why did Pogba leave it to the end of the season formally to announce he was leaving?

That is right, you are spot on about the money and that is why Fergie said he showed a lack of respect for the club.

Every club wins some loses some pogba went purely for the money ask his family they were all with him just like fryers if other clubs such as Chelsea city have values like us they would be more of a threat 20 Times this year concentrate stopping it being 21next year don’t worry about pogba worry about your own club good luck every one next year you’re going to need it

Just came across this article but something I think a lot of people are forgetting is he really didn’t impress at the start of that season in the Reserves. It seemed he needed time to adjust to the difference between Acedemy and Reserve level so is it really surprising he wasn’t thrown in the deep end based off of that.

And it should be noted that while the Italian league is of a high quality the pace, intensity and physicality isn’t at the same level (and International football isn’t either) as its more tactical and considered in its style. As such it was always going to be the case that in England he was going to have to be patient and easied into first team matches as his training program got him more prepared for playing reguar 1st team matches. Its the reason why despite Arsenal fans wanting Oxlade Chamberlain to start every game Wenger does (and why he shouldn’t play Wilshere as much) because despite their talent they just aren’t ready to do so in the English top flight league yet

Finally by the Blackburn game it seems fairly certain he was ‘messing the club around’. United new contract offer had supposedly been on the table since the start of the season but he hadn’t signed it which wouldn’t have helped as we have seen with other players who Fergie considers are acting like they are bigger than the club. Not that I’m sure he would have picked Pogba for the Blackburn game, if there was an experienced CM available to play in CM perhaps he would have got the second birth but playing Rafa and Park while risky should have been experienced enough to get through the game where Park and Pogba maybe not so as Pogba may have needed style support from a CM to cover him and ease him in.

It’s difficult to see a clear way to the truth with the bias of hindsight influencing the public comments of interested parties:

Was Pogba being greedy or was he underappreciated?

Did Morrison ask for too much money or was Ferguson happy to get rid? Did he have to leave Manchester to fulfill his potential?

(Did Rooney ask for a transfer or not?)

Where lies the truth?

Using a remark of Sir Matt Busby from some 40-50 years ago about players’ financial prospects at United is not hugely relevant in today’s football world. 18 year old F.A. Youth Cup winners who, driven by agents and family members, are impatient to ride the gravy train of footballing riches..

I think Pogba’s move was mainly about money but at the same time with Ferguson not starting him in even one game, and with United’s aging midfield, he was hardly given a great vote of confidence. I question whether the Blackburn game was at all relevant. Is it being used with hindsight to justify decisions?

Sir Alex did a great job in moving with the times, one of the cornerstones of his success, but perhaps his patience was tested to breaking point by today’s cocky teenagers (or their agents) wanting it all immediately. If they are not on their third Ferrari by the age of twenty, things are going too slowly. Is this the greed-fuelled expectation of some of today’s footballing starlets? Or are they just sharply aware of their market value and want to be paid accordingly?

Who knows? But United have lost Pogba and Morrison, paid 27 mill for Fellaini and the midfield is as limited as ever.

Let’s hope the Januzaj story is a sign of good things to come.

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