After a transfer with great fanfare to Manchester United in 2016, Paul Pogba seems to be returning to Juventus almost as he left, with Massimiliano Allegri in charge of the A team and Andrea Agnelli in charge of the presidency. The reality is obviously different: it is within an Old Lady weakened sportingly and politically that the French midfielder will try to relaunch a club career which has been silent for six years now.
It’s almost to wonder why he left. Summer 2016. Paul Pogba comes out of what remains today the best season of his career. Shining in Serie A with Juventus (8 goals, 12 assists), an essential part of a French team finalist in the last Euro, a marketing and media phenomenon, La Pioche is at the top of hip-hop in world football. Too strong, too bling-bling, too profitable for a Juventus which refurnishes him for 105 million euros to Manchester United, the player leaves a club which will have nevertheless liked him very much. Paul Pogba is a superstar, and world stars no longer drag on in the soccer. Those times are over. Six years later, however, the star is back in the Piedmontese solar system. Its radiation is weaker. Its more diffuse heat. But it was in Turin that Paul Pogba came to rekindle the sacred fire of a club career that hasn’t made much sense for a good number of years.
Love and Pogba
Besides the symbol, what does this return say? For Pogba, one can think at first sight of the prospect of regenerated sporting ambitions. According to the transalpine media, the player would have conceded a halving of his emoluments (from 16 to 8 million euros). Which would still make him the biggest salary in the squad, along with Matthijs de Ligt. The Frenchman is also reconnecting with a club and tifosi who reserved a triumphant return for him this Saturday, when the player went to the Juventus training center for his medical examination. The passion remains intact, but the reason encourages a tad more caution.
Inconsequential at Manchester United for three seasons, Pogba returns to Italy with some questions in his luggage. His ability to regularly shine at the highest level is part of the lot, even if the player has not really been helped by the Mancunian context in recent years. His career will only have found a semblance of consistency in the France team, especially during the 2018 World Cup, where his contribution to the environment was obviously preponderant in the success of the Blues. In his documentary released in mid-June, the player discussed with the late Mino Raiola the difference between his rendering in selection and in club: “We have to find a club where you are as good as in the selectionstates the latter. With the France team, you are the real Pogba, the Pogba of Juventus, the Pogba that everyone loves…” It is therefore precisely to find “the Pogba that everyone loves” that the ex-mancunian number 6 is repointing among the Bianconeri. Not sure, however, that this Old Lady has the means to offer him the long-awaited makeover.
Worn old lady
The Juventus that the Pioche finds is very different from the one he knew. Giuseppe Marotta, the magician of the Piedmontese transfer window, has spun since 2018 to do wonders in Milan, as sports director of Inter. Contrary to its old habits, Juve will have spent a lot of money for unequal results. Including 115 million euros transfer plus 30 in annual salary, to attract Cristiano Ronaldo in his nets. A huge financial investment, which proved to be unproductive in sporting terms: with the Portuguese in its ranks, Juve did not go beyond the quarter-finals of C1. His all in on Ronaldo will also not have allowed him to strengthen a structurally deficient workforce. Pogba – holder of the C1 final in 2015 in an environment which also included Pirlo, Vidal and Marchisio – will have to revitalize a sluggish white and black midfield for many years. What Manuel Locatelli, for example, had failed to do, brilliant in Sassuolo a year ago, but much more ordinary since his arrival in Turin.
The fault lies largely with the masters of the Piedmontese game. First to Massimiliano Allegri, who had already had Pogba under his command from 2014 to 2016. Inspired during his first three black and white years, the Sir has since locked itself into a deadly tactical conservatism, which has made Juventini the most soothing big team in the championship. Andrea Agnelli, the boss of Juventus, seems for the moment to be satisfied with it. The president of the Bossus retains confidence in his coach, but is himself politically weakened. The failure of the creation of the Superleague – of which he had made himself the first defender – to which are added the repeated flop of Juve in C1, have weakened the image of the club and its maximum leader. Paul Pogba, whose career is not a model of linearity, therefore plunges back into an unstable formation, weighed down by doubts and plagued by the specter of his downgrading. The challenge therefore promises to be immense. The road, badly broken. But who knows? Along the way, there may be the real Paul Pogba biding his time. The Pogba of Juventus, six years ago now.
By Adrien Candeau