The Bianconeri have yet to adequately replace the French midfielder, who is having even more trouble justifying his €105 million price tag
When Luke Shaw was asked last week what Paul Pogba had brought to Manchester United, the left-back quipped: “A lot of dance moves in the dressing room!” It was a harmless attempt at humour but nobody else was laughing – except for maybe Juventus general director Beppe Marotta, who revealed at the club’s annual shareholders’ assembly on Tuesday that the Italian champions had made a €72 million net profit on the Frenchman’s world-record transfer to Old Trafford.
However, the sad fact of the matter is that while Pogba’s move to Manchester represents a great deal for both the midfielder’s agent, Mino Raiola, who made a sickening €27m on the transaction, and the Bianconeri’s bank balance, it is not working out well for either the player or his former club. Put quite simply: Pogba misses Juve – and Juve miss Pogba.
A period of adjustment was always inevitable for both parties. Certainly, Juve were always going to take a while to find their feet, given that they began the 2016-17 campaign without a single member of the midfield that gave Barcelona so much trouble in last year’s Champions League final.
Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo have all since left Turin, while Claudio Marchisio missed the start of the season of through injury. The hope now is that the latter’s eagerly-awaited return, which came against Sampdoria in midweek, will bring a level of balance and direction to a team that looked worryingly rudderless in the recent losses against AC Milan and Inter. The early signs are encouraging, with the Italy international having turned in an accomplished display in a facile 4-1 victory for Massimiliano Allegri’s men.
Still, there is no denying that Pogba’s imposing presence is missed in midfield and PSG’s stubborn refusal to allow Blaise Matuidi to move to Turin has only looked more and more costly as the games go by. Indeed, it is no surprise that Juve are now planning to strengthen their squad – in every sense – by signing Axel Witsel in January rather than pick the Belgian up for free when his contract with Zenit expires next summer.
Of course, while Juve have missed Pogba’s explosive, match-winning brilliance, they are undeniably getting by without him. The Bianconeri are two points clear at the top of the Serie A table ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Napoli, while a home win over Lyon will secure the Old Lady a place in the last 16 of the Champions League with two group games to spare.
Pogba, though, is struggling to reacclimatise in Manchester, which is hardly surprising that he was afforded just three Premier League outings during his first spell at Old Trafford.
However, there has been widespread surprise at just how poorly Pogba has formed so far this term. Compatriots such as Thierry Henry and Hugo Lloris have rightly requested patience, with the former pointing out that he took his time to settle at Arsenal before becoming the club’s all-time record goalscorer, and the latter arguing that his France team-mate is still feeling the effects of a mentally and physically draining Euro 2016 campaign.
Others have been less forgiving, though, with Gary Neville describing Pogba’s defensive efforts against Chelsea last weekend as “embarrassing” and Jamie Carragher confessing after last month’s Manchester derby that he was astounded by the Frenchman’s ill-discipline from a positional point of view.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I felt so sorry for Marouane Fellaini,” the Liverpudlian exclaimed in the wake of United’s 2-1 loss at Old Trafford. “The only way to describe it would be the best player in the schoolyard running where we wants, doing want he wants.”
Given the size of his transfer fee, though, Pogba’s desperation to prove himself is wholly understandable. He is, as Paul Scholes reasoned, trying too hard to impress.
“He should keep it simple for now,” the former England midfielder stated. “Manchester United didn’t buy a Lionel Messi to go and beat five players and stick it in the top corner all the time. They bought a powerful, strong midfield player who can take the ball forward.”
It is mystifying, then, that manager Jose Mourinho has used Pogba in a number of roles to which he has been repeatedly proven unsuited: defensive midfielder, playmaker, No.10. With the Portuguese now publicly claiming that Pogba would make a great centre-half, is it any wonder that the 23-year-old looks so “confused”, as ex-United right-back Neville put it after last week’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield?
Still, the decision to recall Michael Carrick to the starting line-up is certainly a positive for Pogba, who thrived alongside a bona fide playmaker in Andrea Pirlo in Turin. “I think he showed at Juventus,” Scholes mused, “that he needs a controlling midfielder next to him and I think Michael’s got that kind of ability on the ball.”
It’s also worth noting that Pogba endured an similarly chaotic start to last season, as he tried desperately to prove himself worth of the prestigious No.10 jersey at Juventus. Just as he is now, he was attempting to play several positions all at once, seemingly intent on replacing Pirlo and Vidal all by himself.
Happily, with the help of Allegri, he eventually settled upon performing the mezzala role that has always suited him best. If he is allowed to do likewise by Mourinho, Pogba will soon be showing off as many eye-catching moves on the field as off it.