Manchester City and Paul Pogba push all the right transfer narrative buttons

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Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba Credit: PA Images
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba Credit: PA Images

It’s all just speculation for now, but Paul Pogba leaving Manchester United for City is a transfer rumour that pushes every narrative lever going.

If this is a sign of things to come, there’s a possibility that the transfer mill might become a transfer vaporiser this summer. Even the mere possibility of Paul Pogba going to Manchester City feels almost almost hand-crafted to tick every narrative box: from the complex nature of local rivalries to the question of whether a career that promised so much and delivered so little – at club level, at least – can be brought back into the room by a brilliant but, it seems fair to say, complex coach. Were this to happen, and there are no guarantees that it will beyond idle rumour, whatever happened next would make for the plot of a movie. The only question would be what sort of movie it would be.

Much has changed since July 2009, when Manchester United’s noisy neighbours spent £47m to take Carlos Tevez from Old Trafford to the Etihad and put up a huge poster in the city centre proclaiming ‘Welcome to Manchester!’, as though he hadn’t spent the previous two years there. Three years later, he was in the team that beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 to win the Premier League, their first English championship since 1968.

Tevez’s relationship with the club had already become fractious by then and a year later he was gone, but the success kept rolling in for City, even if they still haven’t quite reached the pinnacle to which they aspire. But that relationship is different now. The neighbours are still as noisy as ever, but a lot of that noise has been rebuilding work, and what they’ve built there may be even more troublesome than all that noise. Theirs is a gleaming palace next to a United home which is starting to look more than a little tatty.

Liverpool, it should be noted, barely register in this conversation, just as they barely register in Pogba transfer talk. Neither does it seem likely that they would have much interest in him, but direct transfers between United and Liverpool have been unofficially verboten since Phil Chisnall in 1964.

So there’s that.

And then there’s the player himself. Success as a professional footballer can come from a variety of different places, but few would argue that there isn’t something innate about it that can’t be trained. Pogba has that in excelsis. To understand the players that some dismissively write off as ‘lazy’, we should also recall just how difficult it is for a player to reach this level in the first place. Pogba’s ability was first recognised when he was six years old. From a youth team to a professional contract with Le Havre, then on to Old Trafford, where he was so highly considered to be tapped up – none of this is easy or straightforward.

On every step of that journey, there will have been other players who fell by the wayside, who gave up, got injured, lost interest, or found they weren’t quite at the required level. All professional players have to fight tooth and nail to get so much as a trial, so much as a contract, so much as a place on the bench, and it’s for the rest of us to forget that. All players come with an element of that inside them; it’s impossible to get to this level of the game without it. When that is snuffed out they may be best off walking away altogether. But the lure of all the money, and the knowledge (for many) that it’s the only thing they’ve ever done, keeps many going after that flame has started to flicker.

To lose Pogba on a free transfer once? Shame on you. To lose Pogba on a free transfer twice, shame on me? Debatable. There’s a case to be made that Pogba leaving at the end of the season would be a repudiation of the policies that have seen so much weight attached to the value of Manchester United players on accounts spreadsheets, but in this case the club seem to have made repeated attempts to get him to sign a new contract which have been rejected. If a player doesn’t want to renew a contract, there’s really not a lot you can do.

 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

But even that being out of the club’s control doesn’t really impact on what might happen were Pogba to go to the Etihad and be a raging success. By the time he returned to Old Trafford in 2016, Pogba had four Serie A titles under his belt. He’s won the World Cup and the UEFA Nations League. It’s true to say that players’ fortunes can wax and wane over time, and everybody knows about his injury record, but to claim that these factors alone dismiss the possibility that he could turn it around is facile, and on a free transfer he is surely a roll of the dice worth taking.

It’s not difficult to see how Pep Guardiola might be tempted by the idea of trying Pogba on for size. He is, after all, the sort of player that other professionals look upon with envy; the type that can make magic happen with their feet. It’s an energy that, if channelled constructively and coaxed to life, has the potential to be devastating. Fernandinho is returning to Brazil in the summer, so there will be space in Manchester City’s midfield, albeit in a more defensive position than Pogba’s usual role. He’s not ignorant of how to play there and it’s not difficult to see how Guardiola might think that he can repurpose him following years of misuse at Old Trafford.

That it would be Guardiola embarking upon such a journey is a matter of particular intrigue. Everybody knows Pogba comes with baggage but that he is also an incredible talent. The manager’s job, of course, would be to minimise the former to enhance the latter. Patrolling the touchline in the Bernabeu on Wednesday night in a black turtleneck, Guardiola had half-supervillain, half-Steve Jobs vibe about him. There are times when he definitely looks as though he’s playing up to the stereotype of the coaching overthinker. But everybody knows that Guardiola can walk the walk in terms of footballing intelligence. Joey Barton in a beret quoting ‘Animal Farm’ in a French accent, he is not.

And you can see how it plays out in their headspace. Were this to come off, it’d be a feelgood story of redemption (albeit one tempered by the millions of pounds a year he’d be earning while doing so and all that oil and human rights stuff) with a happy ending. Pogba rifles in the winning goal in the Champions League final. Cut to him and Guardiola, beaming and holding aloft the European Cup, like a closing shot from one of the Goal movies. And should this happen, Guardiola can then walk away into the sunset, retiring to go live in the Andalucian mountains, where he can concentrate on his painting and further improving his cookery. Pogba, meanwhile, gets the hero narrative that many players seem to crave. He’s 29, so there remains plenty of time.

But we also know that there are alternatives to this sequence of events. Some might even argue that, insofar as Pogba’s career since 2016 is concerned, we’re already living in something approaching the darkest timeline. Pogba remains injury-prone. He’s already most likely played his last game for Manchester United. His attitude has been called into question. And there are plenty of ways in which such a transfer could blow up in everybody’s faces. Some might even speculate over whether Pogba could act as a sleeper agent, blowing Manchester City’s carefully-structured culture of excellence from within, although this does seem a little optimistic.

Even the logistics of how such a transfer could take place have an air of melodrama about them following the recent death of Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola. And this is important, because much will be made of his ‘wage demands’. It tends to be half-forgotten just how fabulously wealthy these players are. Even if Pogba took, say, a 75% pay cut to £100,000 a week to play for another club, well, that’s still £5.2m a year; just a National Lottery jackpot every 18 months then. Of course, Pogba is entitled to hope for or demand more money. But regardless of what happens this summer, he’s not going to be living in penury. He’s already a multi-millionaire.

So is this really going to happen? Who knows? It can’t be blithely dismissed with a wave of the hand. After all, if you’d asked a Manchester United player at the start last summer’s transfer window whether they thought that Cristiano Ronaldo would be back at Old Trafford by the end of it, they’d likely have laughed in your face. But less likely transfers have definitely happened before, and there is a case to make that it could work out for all concerned. And the possibility that it might just do so is what’s stopping Manchester United fans from packing his bags and accompanying him on the short trip. The day before the story dropped, some may have been bullish about releasing him; the day after, they might not have been so sure.

The article Manchester City and Paul Pogba push all the right transfer narrative buttons appeared first on Football365.com.

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