In one corner stands Jamie Carragher, Rio Ferdinand and Phil Neville. In the other stands Graeme Souness, Paul Scholes and Stan Collymore. One side claim he is not; the other believe he is.
Is Paul Pogba worth £89million? Is he deserving of becoming the most expensive footballer in history at the age of just 23? Who on earth is Stormzy? The questions are just as tiresome as the transfer saga that preceded them. Paul Pogba is worth whatever Manchester United wish to pay for him, and whatever Juventus wish to accrue for him. If United and Jose Mourinho deem his services important enough to edge closer to the inevitable first £100m fee, then so be it. The club certainly aren’t struggling for funds.
What is important is that United set out to sign Pogba even before the end of last season, and they have done just that before the start of this. For a club whose transfer dealings have been rightfully derided over the past three years, this is a welcome return to the norm at Old Trafford. Manchester United are back. Not quite back atop the perch which was once their former home, but back as a force. A force of evil? A force which epitomises the ills of the modern game? Perhaps. A force to be reckoned with? Most definitely.
Behind every successful manager is a great midfielder. In the Premier League alone, Sir Alex Ferguson had Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes; Arsene Wenger had Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva; Mourinho himself has had Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Cesc Fabregas. And the Portuguese now has Pogba, the finest midfielder in world football, courted by Real Madrid and Barcelona, but lured back to Manchester, back home, to a side who finished fifth last season. He is bonafide Champions League class added to a Europa League squad.
Tuesday’s long-awaited confirmation of the deal was also a middle finger to the doubters – to those who claimed United are no longer an attractive proposition for elite players, to those who doubted Mourinho’s own pulling power, and to those who felt the club were chasing a lost cause. This very website cannot claim to be innocent in any regard; examine the following three excerpts from our gossip section this summer:
‘Are we missing something, or does it not remain incredibly unlikely that United will sign Pogba? They cannot offer Champions League football, and will be up against Real Madrid. They are very much the David to the Goliath of the Spanish giants in this scenario, and, in the modern-day version, David doesn’t always win’ – July 3.
‘The whole ‘Paul Pogba to Manchester United’ thing gathers pace by the day. We can’t quite yet accept that this anything more than just a desire for it to happen. Real Madrid or staying put at Juventus are the eventualities that our brains most compute’ – July 7.
‘Yesterday we had headlines from the Daily Telegraph about how Manchester United had moved into ‘pole position’ to sign Pogba. That’s only true if you’re ignoring the car with Real Madrid written on the front, side and back’ – July 9.
In an age where statement signings and marquee arrivals are demanded by an increasingly clamorous fanbase at each and every club, United have raised the stakes. On the same day they broke the world-record transfer fee for the first time in their history, their bitter rivals admitted ‘huge embarrassment’ at the botched announcement of their own big-money signing, while another historic enemy was being linked with a move for Jonny Evans, a player they cast aside a year ago. Both Manchester City and Arsenal finished above United last season, and yet they can only join the rest of us in standing back in awe.
The three years following the retirement of Ferguson has seen one top-four finish, two failed bosses and countless embarrassments. If a manager can ever be defined by what they say, look no further than the previous two inhabitants of the Old Trafford hotseat. Where David Moyes was busy claiming that United should aim to emulate City, and Louis van Gaal spent two years attempting to downplay fan expectations, Mourinho has let his actions do the talking. And where Moyes trusted Fellaini and Van Gaal made Schweinsteiger his midfield lieutenant, Mourinho will parade Pogba throughout the Premier League.
This is a division which has previously boasted Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez and many more exemplary players, but these talents were not superstars upon joining the Premier League; they were prospects who were nurtured and honed before leaving at their peak. Not since United signed Juan Sebastian Veron in 2001 has an English top-flight club signed one of the genuine best players in the world, an individual any side would welcome – an icon.
What was almost lost in the social media hints, haircuts and dabs was that Pogba improves United exponentially on the field. Ferguson’s reluctance to sign a central midfielder of any kind since 2007 created a problem which Moyes and Van Gaal failed to remedy, but Mourinho has found the solution. The Frenchman is fast, strong and powerful. He can score, he can pass, he can tackle. He is direct, he is athletic and he is technically excellent. He can sit back in midfield, push forward into attack and play box to box. After the grim promise of Rooney quite literally filling United’s midfield for years to come, Pogba is quite the present for United fans. He is a game-changer in every sense, and he is just 23. As his new manager says, he could be the future of the club for the next decade.
There is no doubt this is a vanity signing for a club whose stature has been damaged, whose reputation has been disfigured. But it is a necessary vanity signing, like the multimillionaire midlife crisis sufferer who purchases a Ferrari because they need a new car. The Ford Focus was an option, but when you have the money, power and people to impress, why not treat yourself? United have signed a genuine world-class talent, while servicing their ego in one fell swoop. And if they think he is worth that fee, who are we to argue?