Three summers ago, Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United amid much fanfare. But the recent (and public) confession that he is seeking a “new challenge” signals the beginning of the end for their association.
The 26-year-old recently enjoyed his most prolific season at Old Trafford: scoring 16 goals and creating a further 11 across 47 matches in all competitions throughout 2018/19. However, the high-profile French midfielder would continue to be heavily scrutinised, and there was even an unsavoury exchange between Pogba and United fans in the final game of the campaign.
By now, Pogba has become a figure constantly linked with a transfer move away from the record 20-time English champions. He’s not been able to enjoy a glut of success, as was the case at Juventus, with just two major pieces of silverware – the 2017 League Cup and the 2017 Europa League – won.
With the Red Devils entering another rebuilding phase, and no prospect of Champions League football next season, it’s understandable why he’s thinking of joining a new club. The trickier question is, who would that new club be?
Dream: Real Madrid
For many, Real Madrid is the dream club. Their fabled white jersey conjures powerful emotions, but it’s the man in charge who has attracted their latest recruits. Zinedine Zidane, a playmaking magician in his day, was the undisputed number one footballer of his generation and those who grew up idolising him now want to learn at his feet.
Eden Hazard, who recently swapped Chelsea for Madrid, is one such player. Pogba could be another. He, after all, was one of the many children mesmerised and captivated by France’s run to their inaugural World Cup crown at their home tournament in 1998.
And it also helps that Zidane is a fan. “I know him personally,” the Madrid boss recently said. “He brings so much and there are few players who bring as much as he does.”
It’s fair to say for whatever reason, United, under Jose Mourinho, simply weren’t able to unleash Pogba’s best. Of course, there’s personal responsibility, and he didn’t always cover himself in glory.
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His form underwent an uptick under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, though it quickly became apparent Pogba is someone who grows with quality players around him, something United are short on right now.
This would not be the case at Real, who boast the likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Isco and Hazard.
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They always say never go back. Pogba’s time at Juventus (2012-16) was a resounding success. He bet on himself to leave Manchester United as a teenager and break into the Bianconeri’s first-team. As soon as Antonio Conte handed the enigmatic Frenchman his opportunity, he never looked back. Soon a midfield composition of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Pogba stood among Europe’s most formidable.
His development would accelerate under Massimiliano Allegri and those subsequent eye-catching performances attracted the attention of Europe’s elite, with Real among them.
Juve’s current midfield is not too shabby, but there’s still room for improvement. Pogba, who enjoyed his time in Italy, could inject guile and power. But it remains to be seen whether recently-appointed Maurizio Sarri would be keen for a return, and whether he sees Pogba as his next Jorginho, Allan or Hamsik.
Wildcard: Paris Saint-Germain
Pogba will not go for cheap by any stretch of the imagination. United made him a then world-record signing (£89m) in 2016, and they’ll be determined to make a profit if he’s to leave this summer. His touted price-tag will no doubt put off many from approaching Ed Woodward, but one team who could finance a move is hometown club Paris Saint-Germain.
It’s no surprise what next season’s goal is for the Parisians – in fairness, that hasn’t changed since Qatar Sports Investments acquired them in 2012 – and that’s winning a first European Cup. Although Pogba brings quality and will enhance PSG’s team that already contains football’s two most expensive footballers in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, one wonders if their very own ‘galacticos’ policy will pay off. Another factor is Pogba’s willingness to return home.
Squawka Suggests: Real Madrid
Pogba says he wants a “new challenge”, so that would seem to rule out Juventus, where he has already made 178 appearances while scoring 34 goals and creating a further 43 for his teammates on the way to four Italian championships. Yes, Juventus would be unlikely to open their reported talks with United had they not already received encouragement. But the Matthijs de Ligt saga suggests setting suitors up against one another remains the modus operandi of Pogba’s representative, Mino Raiola.
And even if PSG can provide several lifetime’s worth of financial security, Ligue 1 represents arguably the least competitive of Europe’s five major leagues. And among the column inches dedicated to Pogba transfer talk, links to the French champions are the least developed.
With Real Madrid, the only hiccup appears to be whether or not Florentino Perez can afford to buy every player Zidane wants this summer. But the fact three-time Champions League-winning coach has already spoken about him in such glowing terms suggests Real’s desire to acquire him is real. When you consider Pogba’s “dream” of playing under his idol, it’s hard not to envisage him in Real’s famous white jersey.