With only a few months left on his contract and little news on an extension, it seems like Paul Pogba’s time at Manchester United is close to its end. A time that began with such excitement as Stormzy helped build the hype will now end with thoughts of “what might have been” lingering with Prem fans. Truly a spectacle, on and off the pitch, Pogba was a player who brought character to a Prem sorely lacking characters, but now departs as a ripple in an ocean.
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘it might have been’ ”- John Greenleaf Whittier
It’s hard to describe the excitement that surrounded Pogba’s transfer from Juventus to Manchester United, as Adidas released a banger of a video starring Stormzy to welcome him. Six years later, Pogba is no longer the face of Adidas and the Prem, as his time ends in a whimper.
Pogba at Juventus was one of the greatest players of the 2010s and fans were enthralled every week, as he made the Serie A look like a YMCA youth league. During his time at Juve, he helped take the club to a Champions League final in a truly legendary midfield, but fell short of the prize. It broke every Juve fan’s heart when he moved, but it felt like his destiny was elsewhere.
Now, in 2022, Pogba is no longer the star that dazzled fans at Euro 2016, as he is no longer the focal point of his team anymore. He was, not always, at fault for his struggles at United, as the club is a mess that will take years to fix. Despite the struggles, he was always the same Paul, a lovable flashy player who allowed himself to be vulnerable.
This summer will likely mark the end of Pogba’s time in England, as his future surely lies either back in Italy or elsewhere. One of the most exciting talents since Messi chose United and is now left out in the cold, as his struggles have been magnified by the mess that is Manchester United.
“It’s like a hotwire, baby, when we put it together. When the sparks fly, we’ll ignite the future forever.”- Boots Riley
At Juventus, Pogba would develop from a promising teenager to one of the game’s truly elite midfielders in a span of four years. His time at Juventus was filled with success and moments of true brilliance that made him wanted by every club on earth.
After making 7 total appearances for United in the 2011-12, Pogba was frozen out of the United side after club legend Paul Scholes unretired and rejoined United. Sensing his chances for development were going to be cut down by the 38 year old Scholes, he made the move to Italy. In the summer of 2012, Pogba signed for Turin giants Juventus on a free transfer.
In his first season, he was used mainly as an alternative to the established midfield of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio, making sporadic appearances in place of those legends. It was clear that this kid had the talent and drive to rival the legacies of Platini and Zidane. By the end of his second season, he was already considered the best midfield prospect in the whole of Europe with his domination of the Serie A serving as tantalizing evidence.
When Juve legend Antonio Conte was replaced with Max Allegri in 2014, many wondered how Allegri would rate Pogba, but Allegri quickly established him as the star of his side. Pogba’s effortless masterpieces carried Juve through difficult draws to propel the Old Lady to an unlikely Champions League final. A side that should not have reached the final fought Barca to the end thanks to the performances of their budding superstar
If the 2014-15 season was his breakout, the 2015-16 season would be the season when he put his name in the same breath as Xavi or Iniesta. Taking the famous number 10 jersey, Pogba tore through the Serie A, finishing with 12 assists and 8 goals. Juve repeated as Serie A champs, but ultimately came up short again in the Champions League despite Pogba’s budding partnership with Dybala.
It’s one thing to go over his time at Juve, but to truly understand his impact, it’s better to look at one moment that will forever be ingrained in fans’ minds. That moment being his goal against Napoli in January of 2015.
With Juve looking for their first win at Napoli’s Sao Paolo, already being a goal up, Pogba found himself open near the top of the box as a deflected shot fell to him. Taking a second to adjust his footing, he unleashes a venomous strike to curl the ball past the Napoli keeper, nearly 18 yards out. In a quick shift of momentum across his body, he ripped through the ball with such power to curl it across the goal.
In that moment all of Pogba’s greatest skills were displayed and the reason why all of Europe’s top sides were fighting for his signature became clear. A powerful athlete with an ability to read the game at a level most can’t paired with a love of flair made him the envy of Europe. His powerful right foot was sure to decide many future finals.
Although his time at Juve ended too soon, fans will always carry il polpo in their hearts.
“Cold, cold eyes on me they stare, people all around me and they’re all in fear”- Curtis Mayfield
To much fanfare, Pogba made his move to Manchester United in the summer of 2016 after a drawn out process between United and Juventus. Six years after the move, Pogba’s legacy at United isn’t the positive one that he left at Juve, but one full of maybes.
At United, Pogba joined the perfect team, with José Mourinho as the manager and new additions Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan promising to create a superteam. Playing under the striker, a new role for him, Pogba struggled to fit alongside Rooney and Zlatan. Despite the struggles, that United side would go on to win the Europa League, giving Pogba his first European trophy.
After a positive 17-18 season, Pogba would join the French national team at the 2018 World Cup and remind fans why United had shelled out a record fee for the midfielder. It’s hard to put into words how incredible he was alongside N’Golo Kanté, as the two of them cut down opponents with ease. Pogba’s goal in the final wrapped up what had been the best string of performances since his Juve days and excited United and Prem fans for the upcoming seasons.
However, over the next four seasons, as United’s situation became more chaotic, Pogba’s performances began to dip. Through coaching changes and ground shaking additions, he remained in the side having to accommodate different tactics and players. Now, it seems like his time in Manchester is finally over without a single league title.
It’s true that Pogba has seemed disinterested at United since his arrival and this has led to criticism from the ferocious English press. Pogba never truly seemed at home in the Prem either, as his playstyle was always more suited to a more technically gifted league.
Rather than the issue being squarely on Pogba, the chaos at United should shoulder the blame for the failure of his time there. The club’s embarrassing fall coincided with his time at the club, as ownership tried to fix the sinking ship by throwing money at it.
United’s refusal to ever pick a project has made Pogba seem out of place, one season they sign Bruno Fernandes and aim to be title contenders and the next, they aim to rebuild with Jadon Sancho. With Pogba getting older and no longer having a clear role, it was always going to doom his final years in England.
As his time at United draws to its end, fans are left with only hypotheticals of what could have been with the outspoken and misunderstood star.
“Even the Sun goes down, heroes eventually die, horoscopes often lie.”- André 3000
Pogba will remain the Prem’s greatest “what if” as his technical prowess made fans salivate at the thought of him conquering the league for years to come. Unfortunately, this would never come to fruition, as United’s struggles compounded his own struggles, creating a truly toxic situation. As Pogba likely ventures elsewhere, his future is finally in his hands once more.
Featured Image: Getty