Despite Real Madrid’s last minute Hail Mary play for Paul Pogba, the Frenchman’s transfer to Manchester United for a world record fee seems like a foregone conclusion. With each cryptic post from club, player, agent and even Paul Pogba’s barber, the football world has been hurled into a debate; is he worth the proposed £100m.
During the recent European Championship, Gary Lineker tweeted, “Is Pogba the world’s most overrated footballer?” Before we go any further; yes, we are talking about the same guy who has promised to broadcast the show, Match of the Day wearing nothing but his underwear after dismissing and laughing off his hometown, Leicester City’s title chances last season. If this were the first time you had ever seen Paul Pogba play, you’d be 100% correct in suggesting £100m is way too much for a defensive midfielder – that is where he played for the duration of the tournament. Here is the issue with that sentiment; Paul Pogba is not a defensive midfielder. Not to suggest he is unable to fulfill that role, but rather suggest it is a waste of his talents. The sole purpose of that role is to cut forward passing lanes without possession and with the ball offer a backward pass to recycle possession once an attack stales, and then pass it sideways. It’s a position in a system where creative flair and attacking drive isn't just unnecessary but actually counter-productive. To quote Zlatan – you shouldn’t buy a Ferrari and drive it like a Fiat.
Didier Deschamps had fallen victim to same pitfall where every Englishman, including Gary Linekar, has ever stumbled into – that is not sacrificing players to fit the system and trying to fit all your star players on the pitch at the one time. For close to a decade England persisted with the centre midfield pairing of Gerrard and Lampard, both two of England’s greatest ever, but at the same time should not be on the same field as they’re essentially the same player and do not compliment each other in a 4-4-2.
There was a brief moment in the tournament where Deschamps got it right. Off came Payet (who was playing well in his own right) and on came Kante to anchor the midfield and be that backwards pass we mentioned earlier, with Pogba and Matuidi playing in front of him. As soon as his defensive shackles were released Pogba immediately sprung forward and made the difference and even conjuring up a magnificent assist for Griezmann after taking apart Mustafi. It was the sort of performance the world demanded off him throughout the tournament despite not been given a licence to get forward.
The answer is simple; play Pogba in a role like he plays at Juventus and you will get the performances he produces for Juventus. Take Emanuel Giaccherini for example; here is a man who failed to impress for Sunderland only to be loaned out back to Italy. Conte selected him not on the back of recent form, but in the knowledge of how he can be an asset to the team. Utilized as a box-to-box midfielder, identical to that of Pogba’s role at Juventus, he was a star performer at the Euro’s, scoring a goal against Belgium that is almost a carbon-copy of Pogba’s against Capri where he first unleashed the dab. So extreme was Giaccherini’s transformation in British eyes, BBC’s commentator’s were shocked and exclaimed, “is this the same player who was at Sunderland earlier?” Yes. That’s the result of freedom and being played in a system that compliments you, a concept that the majority of the world has failed to comprehend.
For those who are quick to suggest that, “it’s only Serie A? It’s not as high a standard the English Premier League”, this is a tired argument that is without grounds or logic. For not only has his exploits in the Champion’s League been sensational, it’s not right to throw stones when you live in glass houses. Take Leicester City’s triumph for example and whilst still an incredible achievement, it does make you wonder that a side who on paper where tipped to finish dead-last, won the Premier League after 38 matches where 19 teams with the same naïve mindset failed to adapt and fell victim to the same threat time after time. Doesn’t really say much about the standard of play, does it?
Paul Scholes is the latest high-profile personality to weigh in to the debate, quoted as saying: I just don't think he is worth £86m. For that sort of money, you want someone who is going to score 50 goals a season like Ronaldo or Messi. Pogba is nowhere near there yet. Scholes is welcome to his views but again he has failed to realize the football world he played in is vastly different to this one as is their respective markets. In every market on earth supply and demand dictates price. People are so quick to raise the question; how much would Scholes, Shearer, Roy Keane etc. in their prime be worth today? That’s the whole point – as great as those players were and if you were to make a list of the best players in the world at that time, you’d have to go a long way down it to justify their inclusions. The 50 goals per season argument is another reason to dismiss his suggestions. He’s failed to realize that even in his most prolific season, Zidane only found the net 12 times across all competitions, and to suggest the forwards are worth more than other positions shows complete ignorance to the whole concept of supply and demand – in a hypothetical sense, if the world has an abundance of world class defenders, midfielders and forwards but only one elite goalkeeper, that goalkeeper would most likely be the most expensive player in the world.
The reality is high quality players are in very short supply relative to the 90’s and early 2000’s and it’s represented in the current marketplace by the fact that clubs now are forced to pay for potential as much as ability, but Pogba has both. Chelsea just paid €40m for Batshuayi, a man who is roughly the same age as Pogba and is played off the bench for Belgium and Marseille. He will feature sparingly at most for Chelsea this season, but still somehow worth €40m?
Pogba would feature in the first 11 of any side that buys him, from day 1 and being only 23 years old, after 6 seasons of having a world-class player in the line up, he would still hold value where United (assuming that’s where he is heading) could still sell him for a high fee to recoup most if not all the investment. If Scholes was correct in suggesting that the fee proposed is better spent on Ronaldo or Messi, after that same time period what value would 35 and 37-year olds hold? That is why Pogba is worth the money.