Manchester United are ready to shell out a world record fee for the Juventus virtuoso, but must simplify his role in order to get the best out of him
Euro 2016 has come and gone, and one of the emerging subplots is the performance of Paul Pogba . If possible, scrutiny of his play has only intensified with news of Manchester United ’s willingness to shell out a world record fee - in the region of £100 million - for his services.
While it is impossible, thankless even, to try to work out what a player is worth in today’s hyper-inflated market, one can attempt to make a judgement on just how good a player is.
To simplify, Pogba is acutely unique. Monstrous physical qualities: speed and size, an almost implacable strength, balletic balance, the elegance of a gazelle bounding through a veldt; are allied to the flourish of a circus showman, the touch of a butterfly, a seemingly inexhaustible gallery of catchy haircuts.
As is common with footballers with such a wide range of abilities, there is still some confusion to what exactly he is.
Football is still in the (admittedly lapsing) grip of compartmentalization and, neither fish nor fowl, there is a predilection to indulge him and let him do everything simply because he can. This is a temptation which is too often yielded to within the French national team set-up, as is evident from the just-concluded European Championships, and one which United boss Jose Mourinho would do well to avoid.
Time and again though, this has been proven a bad idea. His best football over the past three years has come with Juventus, first under Antonio Conte, and then under Massimiliano Allegri. Both managers, while fundamentally different in terms of coaching ideology, have the classic Italian managerial savvy, one which recognises that the worst possible way to get the best out of a player like Pogba is to build a team around him.
Player Stats — Paul Pogba
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In truth, much of the perception of Pogba centres on the intangible, the vaporous quality of potential. It is easy to look at his array of weapons, and extrapolate into the future, assuming presumptively that time will of necessity hone them, and by extension the player, into some indestructible cyborg.
There is just as much of a likelihood that it goes the other way, however, as the many tales of talent fallen by the wayside show. Pogba is just so good that it is difficult to envisage such an outcome where he is concerned; he will never be a complete dud, whatever the set-up, but there is the very real danger that he might not hit the absolute peak of his strengths at any point.
Paradoxically, the very range of his skillset acts as a natural check, in a way that public perception and scrutiny has seemed reluctant to.
The conflation of his talent with his ability is so widespread, it is accepted without thought almost. While the former is undeniable, and awe-inspiring, the latter is yet to arrive at the level befitting the status he is accorded. Consequently, it is safe to say that the 23-year-old is overrated, though to what degree this is is purely subjective.
The Juventus man is the Biblical Saul, crowned as he looked the part, but yet to justify his position. Has there ever been a player whose eminence was accepted so readily?
At U-20 level in 2013, he was awarded the Fifa U20 World Cup Golden Ball - while there can be no doubt he was the best player in the tournament, he certainly was not the best player of it, and was arguably outshone by midfield partner Geoffrey Kondogbia in Turkey.
The message with Pogba seems to be that a position has been taken regarding him, and he is expected to work it out. He has never had to prove himself, and interestingly, if Mourinho does sign off on the monster fee needed to snag him from the Old Lady, that will almost certainly change.
Again, first an estimation of his ability (not based on actual performances) has been reached - a stratospheric transfer outlay - and he will be expected to work it out.
The difference here is you can wait for talent to develop, but a world record fee will demand immediate dividend. This may see him finally exposed to the sort of pointed scrutiny that he has seemed to live above for so long.
It will also be a huge test of maturity.
For a player who is at his best when he keeps it simple, there is nothing worse than the burden of being the world’s most expensive player.
It may not be a problem of his own choosing, but it is one of the many he will have to face up to if he is to become worthy of the benediction the footballing intelligentsia so fawningly bestow.