By Tony Mogan.
On the 31st of January of this year, United fans were met with the news that one of the most prodigious talents to emerge from Carrington in the last 15 years had finally burnt his last bridge at Old Trafford, and Ravel Morrison was shipped south to West Ham United, for better or for worse. Reaction to Morrison’s exit was initially mixed, but after all was considered, the general consensus was that the club were left with no choice to cut ties with a problematic enigma driven by an allegedly greedy agent. And besides, at least we still had Paul Pogba.
Unfortunately, the French U19 star has been equally guilty of prolonging contract negotiations himself. And after months of posturing, press speculation and infuriating quotes from exasperating agents, it all seems to have culminated in yet another apparent sensation pricing himself out of a potentially glittering career at Manchester United, as the prospect of a move to Juventus begins to become a frustratingly real one.
Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba – both members of last year’s FA Youth Cup winning squad commonly compared to the fabled class of 1992 – have come to define a particular sort of young footballer. Talented, potentially bound for success-laden careers, but blinded by the excessive number of noughts at the end of contracts and appear to be led by odious agents looking to flog their naïve client around Europe for personal gain; seemingly becoming the mould of the modern, money-driven game.
Pogba has frustrated United, putting contract negotiations on hold and reportedly turning them down altogether, while his super-agent Mino Raiola (who also massages the egos of Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic) engineers a move to the Serie A giants, worth £1 million a year to the 18-year-old midfielder, leaving United with a paltry £300,000 compensation fee.
Meanwhile, Raiola, as reports from The Independent, The Mail and Italy’s Tuttosport suggest, is set to pocket a tidy £1.6 million in the form of a commission fee should the deal be completed. Reports suggesting that Raiola and Pogba have been looking for £40,000 a week for a youngster who has four first team appearances under his belt, a request that borders on the sheer ludicrous, and has understandably left fans in a state of flux regarding how United should proceed.
Pogba has been labelled a future star ever since his protracted move from Le Havre in 2009, a move which came with its own controversy stemming from the debate surround Europe’s elite pinching youngsters not bound by professional contracts for trivial fees. A midfielder blessed with true potential, Pogba has the physical attributes that have elevated him above others around him at youth level for a long time, and possesses the right tools to possibly one day become the heartbeat of a midfield.
United’s coaches and players alike have been vocal in their praise of Pogba’s ability as a modern footballer, few more so than Paul Scholes, who has recognized the Frenchmen as the perfect mixture of imposing physique and peerless technique. United fans have been convinced that he would eventually be a first teamer, but as always is the case with the club and its handling of remarkable ability, patience is imperative. Like Morrison, Pogba is showing very little of it.
The fact that Pogba’s outings in the reserves have been far from spectacular this campaign, not enough to warrant a constant inclusion in the first team, makes this scenario even more baffling. Although his talent is there to see, Pogba has done little to suggest that he should be so far ahead of his youth team colleagues, certainly not enough to demand a contract worthy of a full blown member of Manchester United’s first team squad. Larnell Cole, Jesse Lingard and more recently Davide Petrucci have exhibited greater endeavour and aptitude at reserve level than Pogba has this season, perhaps only held back by their physique, the one department where Pogba undeniably trumps them.
Pogba’s demands are unreasonable in this respect, and therefore there is no point in risking destabilising the club on what is at the moment, pure potential, as much of it as there may be. Repercussions of Pogba (and Morrison’s) contract battles have already emerged in the form of Zeki Fryers, who himself was subject to speculation regarding an alleged rejected contract offer, although the 19-year-old has previously stated that no contract was turned down via his Twitter account.
To put things in perspective, Fryers has started two games for the club (impressive performances against Leeds United and Aldershot Town in the League Cup, completing both games) and made another four appearances from the substitute’s bench. Pogba has started none, coming off the bench three times in the League Cup, and once in the league. Despite this, Paul Pogba was reportedly offered £20,000 at one stage of these negotiations. Fryers was offered a fifth of this.
Paul Pogba feels he is ready for first team football, something you can’t fault him for, if anything, it should be appreciated. To add to his frustration, he has witnessed United’s midfield decimated by injury at times this season, and has been overlooked. But he is an 18-year-old at Manchester United, a club that has prided itself on the structured transition from youth development to first team football. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley have been given this treatment, earning their stripes at youth and reserve level, during loan spells at lower league sides (Preston North End and Watford respectively) and eventually at Premier League sides (Sunderland and Wigan last season) alike, before they were well and truly considered members of the first team squad. Ryan Tunnicliffe, who was part of that fantastic FA Youth Cup winning side of last year, is seemingly heading down a similar route, having just returned from a successful loan spell at Peterborough.
Youth has been the buzz word around Old Trafford this season. Whilst Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are still inexplicably doing the business, a new dawn has broken on the red side of Manchester, as players such Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck have seamlessly managed to become key components to a United side battling with the blue juggernaut from Eastlands.
Having Paul Pogba eventually amongst this blossoming squad would have been a salivating thought, but the repercussions of bowing to the demands of an 18-year-old and his representatives is something the club cannot risk facing. If the club were to do this, more youngsters brimming with potential, but still largely unproven, would be knocking on David Gill’s door, demanding an improved contract too. And who could blame them?
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