Do Manchester United really have to spend over the odds to solve their midfield conundrum?
Is Pogba really worth risking £100 million over?
Manchester United are willing to pay as much as £100 million for their former academy product Paul Pogba, if reports are to be believed.
Either way, if United want to lure Pogba back to Old Trafford, it is going to take a rather large bag of gold to free him from Turin. Yet, is Pogba worth it?
There can be no denying his talent and ability. A powerful, athletic midfielder, complemented by an array of tricks and superb technique. He is adept in the air, competent in possession and capable of striking a sixty-yard pass to within an inch of its target.
He is the kind of midfielder that United have lacked since the days of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. A man in the middle of the park who can impose himself on the game and on the opposition. It is United’s central midfield dearth in recent times that reinforces that well-known question: Why on earth did they let him go?
A return? Paul Pogba
Indeed, as Rio Ferdinand, quoted by the Daily Mail, put it on Sunday night: 'His star quality was undoubted. There was not one person in that changing room who wasn't sure. Everyone in that changing room knew that him leaving was a huge, huge error.'
But the past cannot be unwritten, and now United stand willing to pay the same price as it would cost to buy Hull City. (£100 million, according to the Hull Daily Mail).
Nevertheless, despite the romance of the signing, and the statement of spending so much money and out-bidding Galactico-accumulators Real Madrid, United would be better off reinvesting that money elsewhere.
Indeed, Blaise Matuidi would make a better signing than Pogba for United.
Financially, it makes sense. No matter how much commercial revenue the Red Devils recoup for Pogba, the cost of his signing, including the extortionate fees that will be paid to his agent Mino Raiola, will not justify the rewards.
There is a reason Real Madrid are refusing to break the transfer record for Pogba.
Matuidi meanwhile is likely to command a much lower transfer fee, almost certainly under half of what United will have to fork out for Pogba.
The Juventus midfielder, who has all the attributes to be a world-class player, is still not yet the finished article to warrant such a fee. This was illustrated by his performance in the European Championship final.
Aware of the expectation surrounding him, repeatedly Pogba was seen trying to do too much, taking an extra touch, attempting to beat that one more player. He can do it - his excellent assist for Griezmann’s second in the semi-final typifies this - but he cannot yet do it consistently.
For Juventus, Pogba is a key man. With eight goals and 12 assists to his name in Serie A last time, he is certainly pivotal to everything the Old Lady do.
But he is not a total cut above the rest, just yet. Marek Hamsik netted six times for Napoli with 11 assists last term, scoring two less but having only 84 shots – a full 40 less than Pogba. Hamsik averaged 2.5 key passes per game in Serie A, to Pogba’s 1.5 – according to WhoScored.com.
The point here is not that Pogba is not talented, nor that he is not an outstanding midfielder or even that he is not world class, because he invariably is all those things and could potentially be so much more. The fact is, he is not worth £100 million.
With a huge price tag like that, there is the risk that the increased weight of expectation could become detrimental, especially as he tries to prove himself in a league as difficult, and competitive, as the Premier League.
Matuidi, is a completely different kind of player to Pogba. He is the industry without the glitter.
To suggest he is a better player than Pogba would be ridiculous. He isn’t. And there can be no stat, no fact nor whimsical analysis that can prove otherwise.
But he is what United need. A safer bet, and one that is a hell of a lot cheaper.
Matuidi has been a revelation since his move to Paris Saint-Germain from Saint-Etienne. Consistently the first name on the team-sheet, the insurance he provides to the plethora of stars in front of him make him an irreplaceable asset to PSG.
United don’t lack creativity in the centre of the park. Henrik Mkhitaryan, who has operated out-wide at times in the past for Dortmund, has his preference in the central midfield behind a forward. Ander Herrera is another, whilst Juan Mata, whose future is now in jeopardy with Mourinho’s arrival, is another creative central midfield operator. Somehow, United will have to accommodate Wayne Rooney with Zlatan and potentially Marcus Rashford. Should he be pushed back to behind a main striker, there adds another creative spark to United’s midfield.
Where United lack is a midfield steel, something that Michael Carrick does not bring to the table. United lack energy, and whilst they can get that from Pogba, they can just as effectively gain that from Blaise Matuidi.
Blaise Matuidi or Paul Pogba? Or maybe even both?
Should United sign Pogba, he undoubtedly will do well. Whether he lives up to a price tag greater than I will ever earn in my lifetime, is perhaps more uncertain. Certainty lies in the safer bet, and in Matuidi, an alternative option exists.
But, knowing United and Mourinho, they may just end up signing both.