Article written by: Jeff Davis
Paul Pogba, the 23 year old French midfielder, is about to complete his move from Juventus to Manchester United. Pending his medical (which is simply a formality for a player of his fitness and known physical abilities), he will become Manchester United’s highest paid transfer in its history. So why is this the worst piece of business in the history of world soccer? Let me explain…
At first glance, the transfer fee (89 million GBP or $116 million) doesn’t look so surprising for a player of Pogba’s age, quality, and potential given the current global market. For a club with the annual revenues and ambitions of Manchester United, this sum of money is also not surprising. After all, they did spend 97 million pounds ($126 million) in 2014 just on Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata.
What makes this deal so embarrassing for Manchester United from a business perspective, however, is that Paul Pogba used to be their player and they let him go to Juventus only 4 years ago FOR FREE! Yes, that is correct, in August 2012 Paul Pogba moved from Manchester United to Juventus on a free transfer and spent the next 4 years helping rebuild Juventus into one of the best teams in Europe. While Manchester United suffered one disappointing season after another and eventually fell out of the UEFA Champions League qualifying picture entirely, Juventus won 4 Serie A titles in a row and went to the UEFA Champions League final in 2015.
So why did Pogba leave Manchester United for free? Pogba himself has answered this in one word and you don’t need to speak French to do the translation… “Opportunité”.
After moving from the famed French youth academy at Le Havre in 2009, Pogba became a star player at Manchester United in both the U18 and Reserve teams. For the 2011-2012 season, then manager Sir Alex Ferguson named Pogba to the first team for the upcoming Premier League season. Fan were excited about the young phenome, a “homegrown academy product” (if you choose for forget he had played in France until 2 years prior) who had the potential to become a star and restore pride to the Academy that had produced players like Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, and the Neville brothers and won the UEFA Champions League.
However, Pogba did not feature in any Premier League games in 2011 and was limited to 3 substitute appearances in the EPL and 1 Europa League match in the spring of 2012. The writing on the wall, says Pogba, was in January 2012 when Manchester United had numerous injuries in the midfield. Rather than give the young Pogba a chance, Sir Alex Ferguson brought Paul Scholes, who had retired the season before and was coaching youth teams at the club, out of retirement to strengthen the United midfield. At this point, with his contract expiring at the end of the season, Paul Pogba and his agent began to explore other options and Juventus came calling. The rest is history.
Now, in August 2016, Manchester United is about to buy back the kid who wasn’t good enough to play over a retired youth team coach four years ago for 89 million GBP ($116 million). And while he will make a fantastic Premier League player and is a crucial signing to the rebuilding process of Manchester United, it cannot be ignored that giving away a player for free and buying him back for a club record transfer fee is the worst soccer business in the history of the game. Only time will tell his true value, but in the meantime you can be sure that the Andrea Agnelli, Pavel Nedved and the rest of the Juventus board will be backslapping and raising glasses of Prosecco to their success in doing business with Manchester United.