Friday, 3 June 2016

Paul Pogba holds France's Euro 2016 hopes in his palms... but how did he become the world's most-coveted midfielder and how on earth did Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson let him go?

Early in 2012 Sir Alex Ferguson sat down with his coaching staff at Manchester United to discuss the future of some of the club's young players.
An annual affair, it was never a straight forward meeting. For some young players there would be good news on the horizon, for others only pain.
Paul Pogba, the club's 18-year-old French midfield player, was sitting on the happier side of the equation. He would be staying at Old Trafford and a new contract and regular first team football beckoned.
Paul Pogba decided to leave Manchester United on a free transfer after being just a few chances to shine

Paul Pogba decided to leave Manchester United on a free transfer after being just a few chances to shine
The Frenchman (left, pictured with Antoine Griezmann) is now one of the world's top superstars

The Frenchman (left, pictured with Antoine Griezmann) is now one of the world's top superstars
'Everybody there agreed we needed to integrate him in to the first team group the following season,' former United coach Rene Meulensteen told Sportsmail this week.
'It was time to bring him on and we knew that.
'Myself, Mick Phelan and Sir Alex Ferguson sat down and discussed it.
'It was a certainty that he would be in the first team picture the next season.'
At that time, Pogba had already made his first team debut in the League Cup and his Premier League bow was only a matter of weeks away.
'He was on a very clear trajectory towards the first team,' said former United youth coach Paul McGuinness.
'There was no doubt about that.'
Six months or so after these discussions, Pogba was gone. Out of contract, the teenager was lost to Juventus of Italy on a free transfer. How and why that happened remains one of the great peculiarities of the modern Manchester United.
 
A week before the start of Euro 2016, a familiar face stares out from the cover of one of the UK's best-selling football magazines.
Paul Pogba. A poster boy for his nation and also for a tournament.
In a country with its heart blown wide open by terrorism, Pogba is the perfect symbol for recovery. Strong, tall, imposing, defiant, confident, hopeful.
Now 22, he plays exactly like he looks he would play, only with a slightly lighter touch. A Serie A winner in each of the four years since leaving Old Trafford, Pogba will once again attract interest from Europe's top clubs this summer.
If he is not yet at the peak of his powers, then he is certainly on his way and those who first encountered him at Old Trafford are not surprised.
'You noticed his size and his athleticism straight away,' McGuinness recalled this week.
'He was 16 when he came to use, 6ft 4in and not fully grown.
'The athleticism was phenomenal. He did not run, he bounced.
'On Mondays we used to have sessions of what was basically street football. Anything goes, hard floor, small ball.
'It was mixed age groups and he just did fantastic things, all the tricks and skills.
'His ability in those sessions was unbelievable. All the close control and the drag backs you see now, he was doing it there.'
Pogba was recommended to United by the club's French scout David Friio and signed from a reluctant Le Havre in the summer of 2009.
Pogba (centre) poses with Gyliano van Velzen (left) and Tyler Blackett (right) after winning the FA Youth Cup

Pogba (centre) poses with Gyliano van Velzen (left) and Tyler Blackett (right) after winning the FA Youth Cup
Adnan Januzaj (right) and Pogba were part of the side which won the Manchester Senior Cup trophy

Adnan Januzaj (right) and Pogba were part of the side which won the Manchester Senior Cup trophy.

Friio said soon after: 'He's the best player of his age group in that position in the world.'
Certainly Pogba's progress in Manchester – where he lived with his mother Yeo - was rapid.
Video footage of his contributions for McGuinness's age group teams and, subsequently, United's reserves reveal some of what we see now: a giant young footballer playing passes and unleashing shots that few players would even consider.
'As you move up a level you need to be able to unlock the door,' added McGuinness.
'We did drills against packed defences, encouraging the one-twos and the chipped passes that he is so good at.
'The players at that level of ability have such belief. If Paul lost the ball in training then he would just go in to over drive and show that he was still the best player.
'All the very best ones are like that. They need to remind everybody that they are top dog.'
Pogba decided to leave Manchester United for Italian giants Juventus after growing frustrated at Old Trafford

Pogba decided to leave Manchester United for Italian giants Juventus after growing frustrated at Old Trafford
It seems unfeasible now that a player so incredibly gifted only ever played three Premier League games for United's first team. Even more so when the progress made by players such as Marcus Rashford this season is considered. First team exposure often breeds rapid development.
'He was actually different than Marcus,' added McGuinness.
'Marcus – when he was younger – could be sullen and unconfident, unsure of himself and all uncoordinated legs that wouldn't do as he wanted.
'He could struggle at times but Paul was not like that. He was gangly and not the finished article but he was right where he needed to be almost as soon as he arrived.
'He had a great personality, open and warm. He was like that with everybody. He was full of fun and he was great with the younger players.
'In some ways, he did the coaching for us because the others just copied him.
'They looked up to him in every sense of the word.
'He would say: "Just call me PP".
'But we thought he was like the Pied Piper.
'He looked as though he was going straight to the top and the others would be trying to follow him.'
 
A 3-2 home defeat by the Premier League's bottom club Blackburn Rovers on December 31, 2011 was not the way Sir Alex Ferguson had intended to celebrate his 70th birthday.
As the United manager hurried away from Old Trafford in a fog of irritation, Paul Pogba was not feeling like embracing the New Year either.
Pogba had been primed to make his league debut for an injury-struck United that day, or so he thought.
Instead Ferguson selected full back Rafael da Silva in central midfield. Pogba began on the bench and never got on.
'Paul Scholes had retired and Darren Fletcher was injured,' Pogba recalled in an interview.
'And there was Rafael in midfield. I was disgusted.'
Worse was to come for Pogba nine days later when Scholes was lured from retirement. The young Frenchman has subsequently referenced that as another factor in his decision to leave that summer.
This does not tell the whole story, though.
A saga between club and player that grew ugly quickly did not just have the old-fashioned issue of playing time at its core. It was about power, personality and money, too.
Ferguson's attitude towards agents was always black and white. He either liked you or he didn't and he certainly didn't like Pogba's representative Mino Raiola nor indeed the amount of money he believed his young client was worth in the terms of a senior contract that was by then under discussion.
Pogna poses in the Juventus changing room with just one of the eight winner's medals he has won at the club

Pogna poses in the Juventus changing room with just one of the eight winner's medals he has won at the club
Ferguson has said of Raiola: 'I distrusted him from the moment I met him.
'Our first meeting was a fiasco. He and I were like oil and water and from then on our goose was cooked.'
Other United sources tell a rather more explosive version of that encounter.
'Fergie was asked by [chief executive] David Gill at the pre-meet brief just to stick to the fact that he wanted Paul to stay and that he would definitely get a chance very soon,' the source revealed.
'But almost from of the off Fergie and Raiola were at each other's throats. It proved to be a very brief meeting.'
Pogba eventually left for Juventus on a wage package of more than £20,000-a-week. It was a lot for a player with almost no first team experience.
'By then I was being made to train alone in the gym for a week because I did not want to sign,' Pogba told the BBC recently.
'That was disrespectful but they didn't think they were making a mistake.
'I felt something in my heart so I left. I thank Manchester United every day but I have no regrets. I made a great decision.'
Some United fans believe Ferguson allowed personal differences get in the way of what was best for the club. It's possible. It had happened before while at the start of that season the United manager had admitted he would have to play Pogba in order to keep him.
Sir Alex Ferguson (centre, pictured at the FA Cup final) let Pogba leave Old Trafford on a free transfer in 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson (centre, pictured at the FA Cup final) let Pogba leave Old Trafford on a free transfer in 2012

Others who watched Pogba regularly for the reserves at that time, meanwhile, believe he was too inconsistent to command the numbers Raiola wanted.
Meulensteen said: 'Yeah, there were some issues about his game defensively and about reading the game etc. But that was normal.
'Talented players like that tend to progress very quickly if you bring them in to the senior group.
'But we were working with a very good first team then. It is not as easy just to throw young players in.
'It was just a case of him being patient. He only had to look at Ferguson's record of bringing young players through to realise that he would get his chance.
'It is a shame it all fell down at the next hurdle. It was a cause of regret for us.
'Everybody who worked with him recognised the talent and it was clear he would have had a lot to offer for years to come.'
In spotting the potential for trouble back at the start of that 2011-12 season, Ferguson had said: 'If we hold him back, he will leave.'
But the Scot was to ignore his own warning to the extent that Pogba had made only three Premier League appearances by the time he quit United nine months later.
In his very first season in Italy, he played 27 times in team that won the title and eight times in the Champions League. It was clear United, somehow, had got things terribly wrong.
'I don't know the full story of how he left,' said McGuinness.
'But I do know they really wanted to keep him.
'It became a point of principle, though, I think.
'That was my reading of it anyway.'
Pogba and fellow former Manchester United man Patrice Evra lift the Coppa Italia in May 2016

Pogba and fellow former Manchester United man Patrice Evra lift the Coppa Italia in May 2016
 
The queue at Pogba's door is not long but it is exclusive. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, both Manchester clubs. The figures that are being mooted, meanwhile, are huge. A transfer fee of more than £80m and wages of £1m a month.
The new golden child of kit company adidas, the young Frenchman has 'Pogboom' written down the back of one of his boots and, as of this week, shaved in to his hair. That smacks of brashness but those who know say Pogba has actually remained level.
A regular visitor to England – Pogba comes to London about six times a year - it is thought he would prefer to move to Spain when the time comes to say goodbye to Juventus. That will certainly disappoint City – who have courted him for two years now – and also Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich who would happily make him his highest paid player if he could.
'If an English club were to sign him then they will have to blow Real and Barca out of the water with the wages,' said a source close to the situation.
'That is feasibly the only way they could tempt him.'
The 23-year-old had the word 'Pogboom' shaved in to his hair during France's match against Cameroon

The 23-year-old had the word 'Pogboom' shaved in to his hair during France's match against Cameroon
At United, as Jose Mourinho looks at a midfield light on youth, physicality and real presence, the new Old Trafford manager will wonder just how his old associate Ferguson managed to let this one slip through his fingers.
In France this summer, meanwhile, Pogba has the opportunity to announce himself to an even wider audience. The cross he landed on the instep of Olivier Giroud in a recent friendly was special enough and the European Championships haven't even started yet.
'There is an awful lot more to come now,' predicted McGuinness.
'He won't be at this peak until he is 27 or 28.
'The frightening thing is that he is only just getting started.' 

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