Don’t waste your money, Real Madrid – Paul Pogba isn’t worth it
Reports in Spain this weekend claim that Pogba, 26, is desperate to force through a move to Madrid, while Real boss Zinedine Zidane is said to be keen to bring in his fellow Frenchman as he sets about a major rebuilding job at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Since Zidane returned to the reins at crisis-stricken Real, the club have flexed their financial muscle in spending more than €300 million ($340 million) on new talent.
Defenders Eder Militao and Ferland Mendy have arrived for around €50 million each, while striker Luka Jovic has also been signed for a reported €60 million from Frankfurt.
Brazilian youngster Rodrygo, 18, was secured from Santos for a fee said to be €45 million last year, but will finally join up with the team this summer; fellow 18-year-old Takefusa Kubo, a former Barcelona starlet, also penned a deal this week for around €2 million and will start life at Real in the junior ranks.
Topping the lot so far, however, has been the arrival of Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard, who was unveiled to 50,000 fans at the Santiago Bernabeu this week after completing a move from Chelsea for a fee that could exceed €150 million.
But the signs are that Zidane is far from done with overhauling a squad that fell so spectacularly short last season domestically and in Europe.
One key piece of the puzzle for Zidane is said to be World Cup winner Pogba, who reportedly wants out at United three seasons after returning to the club from Juventus for a transfer fee of around £90 million.
There are no signs United would be willing to part with their star player, but once Real have a target they are known as persistent pursuers, typically signaling their interest through various channels (as Zidane has done in public) along with the tacit notion that the player can do the rest by forcing through a move – all of which appears to be playing out in familiar fashion with Pogba.
The Frenchman, though, is one move that even a club as cash-rich and spendthrift as Real should think twice about before putting their hands in their pockets.
Pogba has just ended a season with United where the team limped to sixth place in the Premier League, despite the initial – and spectacular – uptick when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ended the dreary reign of Jose Mourinho in December.
Solskjaer’s arrival coincided with a purple patch for Pogba during which he scored eight goals and registered five assists in eight games, seemingly enough to secure him a place in the Premier League team of the season – the only inclusion from outside the top two of Manchester City and Liverpool.
But outside of that run of form, Pogba was largely anonymous when it mattered in games against United’s top six rivals.
Likewise in the Champions League, where he scored twice and set one up in the opening group stage game against Young Boys, but then largely went AWOL for the rest of the tournament – even getting himself sent off in the last 16 first leg against Paris Saint-Germain, meaning he missed the stirring second-leg comeback.
He effectively didn’t turn up against Barcelona in either leg of the quarter-final that followed.
For someone considered his team’s main man – and even with the paucity of the talent around him – these are the games where you would expect Pogba to step up.
He has undoubted class and is capable of moments of brilliance that few others in the game today are; his range of passing can be exceptional, and he can be near unstoppable when driving forward.
But exasperation has become his hallmark, rather than excellence.
Even during the World Cup in Russia last summer, where Pogba was seen as a key component in France’s success, his influence was arguably stronger off the pitch than on it.
He was seen as a leader of the team, giving rousing team talks at key moments, including before the game against Argentina and final against Croatia – which he went on to score in.
But throughout the tournament players such as defensive lynchpin Raphael Varane, the tireless N’Golo Kante, and the prodigious Kylian Mbappe were more influential.
Many felt that Pogba would kick on at United after that tournament, but his relationship with Mourinho disintegrated and the club have, again, only seen frustratingly fleeting glimpses of the player they thought they had signed.
People can, of course, point to extenuating circumstances at Old Trafford, as United still struggle to come to terms with the post-Ferguson era, bereft of clear-sighted leadership at higher levels in the club.
But here, the parallels between Pogba and Hazard are insightful.
The Belgian spent seven years at an often dysfunctional Chelsea, winning Premier League titles but also enduring the managerial upheaval that has become the norm at the London club.
Stamford Bridge is rarely a settled place, and was in turmoil for large parts of last season under Maurizio Sarri.
Nonetheless, Hazard still emerged as by far the team’s best performer, scoring 16 times in the league and providing 15 assists – spread consistently across the season.
Yes, Hazard is deployed in a more forward role than Pogba, and would be expected to score more, but his performances for the team have frequently matched the magnitude of what was expected of him, including in big games.
His final parting gift to Chelsea was a two-goal, man-of-the-match performance in the Europa League final win against Arsenal.
When all around him at the club appeared to be losing their heads last season, he got his down and grafted for the team.
Even during Pogba’s fertile patch last season his goals came against the likes of Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Fulham; against the bigger teams, and in clutch situations, he failed to deliver time and again.
Whereas Madrid have truly signed a Galatico in Hazard, it’s hard to see how Pogba is in the same galaxy at the moment.
The French star’s appeal does extend beyond the pitch, and his marketability will be of big attraction to Real.
Pogba recently posted images to his 35 million followers of his post-season Asian tour, which he has embarked upon to huge fanfare with sponsors Adidas. He is a young, fashionable figure, a World Cup winner and a role model to many.
His signing would no doubt generate a vast number of social media ‘engagements’ – something the brand-conscious clubs seem to place more and more value on these days.
On the pitch, Zidane clearly feels he can get the best from his countryman as he enters what should be the prime years of his career.
He may believe that setting Pogba free from the Old Trafford malaise would allow him to flourish in Spain, especially given the less frantic, more technical nature of the game in La Liga when compared to the Premier League.
It's also true that Real have an aging Luka Modric in midfield and have seen increasingly diminishing returns from Toni Kroos.
But if Zidane is seriously considering basing his rebuilding project at Real around Pogba as a key foundation, it would be on very shaky ground indeed.
And even if Manchester United were to consider letting Pogba go, it would likely take a fee far in excess of what they paid for him, given the post-Neymar to PSG world of transfer deals.
Instead, Real would be better off saving their money or looking elsewhere.
Pobga, meanwhile, would be better off getting his head down at Manchester United – where he is needed more than ever – and showing what a talented footballer he can be.
Then he can start thinking about Real Madrid.
By Liam Tyler