A future without Ronaldo? Three ways Real Madrid could line up with Paul Pogba
During a summer in which France’s current midfield prodigy seeks to step into the boots of one of his country’s greatest sporting icons, Paul Pogba could be lining himself to try and achieve the same feat at club level with a move to join Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid.
After four seasons of near constant improvement at Juventus, the 23-year-old now appears ready for a new challenge with another one of Europe’s super-heavyweights. In months gone by, Barcelona and Manchester City were touted as the front-runners to sign the attacking midfielder – as the long-term successor to Andres Iniesta and Yaya Toure, respectively – but their interest has waned as their target’s transfer value has skyrocketed.
The arrival of Ilkay Gundogan at the Etihad as Pep Guardiola’s first major midfield signing of the summer appears to have filled the gap in the squad that was once thought to be reserved for Pogba, and there is little appetite to break records to bring the Frenchman to Manchester. Similarly, the feeling at the Camp Nou is that their need is not as great as once thought, or as high as the valuation Juventus have now placed on their prime asset. Pogba remains a reported target for Manchester United, though Jose Mourinho could be pipped to the post by Zidane’s playing reputation.
Instead, it is Real Madrid who now lead the way according to the player’s agent, Mino Raiola. “We are in the first stage of the negotiations,” he told Marca.
“Paul admires Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane and that will obviously be important towards his decision. €120 million, €140 million? Paul is worth whatever a club is willing to pay for him,” Raiola added.
Zidane is an iconic figure in the recent history of the French national team, Real Madrid and Juventus, and Pogba has already taken steps to emulate what his predecessor achieved in Turin. At Euro 2016, he is hoping to imitate the 43-year-old’s success on the international stage, even if he has so far struggled to live up to his billing.
The next step in his quest to become not only the true heir to Zizou but also a Ballon d’Or winner in his own right looks to be a move to the Bernabeu, but where would he fit into the reigning Champions League winners’ line-up?
In the hole as a No. 10
Pogba has played almost exclusively in central midfield for Juventus regardless of whether his team have lined up in a 3-5-2, 4-3-3 or any other system – both Antonio Conte and Max Allegri have a penchant to shift the shapes of their sides as they see fit – but in another league, and at another club, his natural place could be in the hole.
Despite standing at six-foot-three, he is a footballer of finesse rather than force, whose best qualities are his dribbling, vision and shooting abilities, especially outside the box. Those skills may be best served playing behind Karim Benzema, with the direct runs of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo from either flank to find with his passing.
He may be a player of panache instead of power but he is also a more diligent presence in the final third than James Rodriguez – Pogba often led the way when it came to winning the ball back in the opposition’s half in Serie A last year.
As Juventus came back from a poor start to win an historic fifth straight title this season, he chalked up his highest tally of assists for a league campaign yet with 12 from 35 appearances. No player created more in Italy’s topflight.
If he is to become Zidane’s long-awaited successor as the fulcrum of Real Madrid’s midfield, taking pride of place in the hole behind the striker would seem the perfect position from which to try and live up to the mantle.
A replacement for Toni Kroos
In addition to the inspiration he can provide for others, Pogba is a serious threat from range. He has scored more goals from outside the area than any other player in Serie A over the last four seasons. When on the ball, few can resist his purposeful and penetrative runs – only Franco Vazquez completed more take ons than the Frenchman in Serie A this season.
With Toni Kroos reportedly unsettled at Real Madrid, Pogba may be required to take up a deeper role alongside Luka Modric and Casemiro, bringing the ball forward, creating chances with long balls and short passes and ensuring one of Europe’s most individually dangerous midfields doesn’t lose any of its sense of deterrent.
He wouldn’t be a perfect substitute for Kroos. The German is a more tidy player with the ball. Even when he does decide to take a chance with a pass designed to split a defence or find a runner over the top he either hits it with such technical precision, or the risk is so thoroughly calculated, that it usually comes off in one way or another.
Pogba remains a slightly hap-hazard creator in comparison to the more immaculate former Bayern Munich midfielder, but few playmakers stand up to such scrutiny when placed alongside the 26-year-old. However, after having answered his critics on an almost season-by-season basis at Juventus, it would be foolhardy to bet against the Frenchman proving himself capable of mastering the Kroos role in the years to come.
However, Kroos himself stepped in to fill the gap left behind by a far more anarchic creator in Angel Di Maria after he left for Manchester United in 2014. Perhaps Pogba – with his comparable capacity for dribbles, dangerous balls from all angles and threat from range – would represent a return back to having a player of the Argentinian’s ilk lead the way in midfield over its more assiduous incumbent?
The face of a future without Ronaldo
Of course, Real Madrid aren’t exactly known for making the most logical moves in the transfer market. Their Galactico policy under Florentino Perez is based on the idea of boosting their reputation, branding and, ultimately, their revenue by bringing the biggest names to play at the Bernabeu.
At least part of the thinking behind their record-breaking move for Gareth Bale was commercially-minded, and the Welshman has since proven to be an asset on and off the field, especially when it comes to making strides in English-speaking territories, such is the cynical nature of the modern game.
Pogba is one of the most highly-hyped players in world football. Making a move for him this summer would top up Real Madrid’s running tally of Galacticos as much as it would hand Zidane another option to play with. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the club want the player without any real thought of how he would fit in tactically – the hope, as it often is at the Bernabeu, may be that he proves himself good enough that such concerns are irrelevant. The role will find him, not the other way round.
Signing Pogba could change how Perez’s marketing team line up their Galacticos on poster boards and adverts long before Zidane has figured out how his arrival might affect how his own team line-up on the field.