The Paul Pogba Dilemma
On August 9th 2016, Manchester United completed a deal, for a then world record £89 million fee, to bring Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford after he had left the Red Devils for £1.5 million in compensation to join Juventus in 2012.
Now almost like a yo-yo, it has been reported that the Old Lady are in talks to bring Pogba back to Italy. This could be bad news for Manchester United as Paul Pogba was arguably their best player in the 2018/19 season, despite the negative criticism he seemed to constantly receive. He scored 16 goals and contributed 11 assists in all competitions for Manchester United last season. If United were to cash in on the Frenchman, what effect would the transfer have off and on the pitch?
Off the Pitch
There are many issues that arise away from the game played on match days if Paul Pogba were to be sold. Firstly, there is his social media presence and the exposure it brings to the club. The tweet that announced Pogba’s return to United using the hashtag ‘#POGBACK’ gained 84,000+ retweets and 89,000+ likes on twitter, showing how United used the player to gain massive worldwide exposure upon the transfer’s announcement. Pogba himself also has 34.9 million followers on Instagram, which these two examples show the influence the Frenchman has on the ever-growing platform of social media.
However, despite the added exposure the player brings to the brand, his performance on the field has been brought into question and this has been related back to his antics on social media. By selling Paul Pogba and buying someone less present on the site it may reduce the pressure to perform on the pitch and there promote a more positive image of the club’s brand. Also, by not relying on promotion through players it may improve the quality and the strength of the club’s own social media channels.
In terms of sponsorship, despite his constant criticism from fans, Ed Woodward is very impressive in his ability to gain and maintain high level sponsorship for Manchester United, such as the sleeve sponsor of Kohler and the shirt sponsor of Chevrolet, so the departure of one player would not be a problem. If Pogba was to leave and the team was not improved in his absence, then the problem would arise, as the team would significantly decrease in quality and therefore be a less marketable product for Woodward to bargain with.
Finally, in terms of shirt sales, it seems that despite being the top selling shirt when he first joined, when Alexis Sanchez joined United in 2018, the Manchester Evening News reported that he was the top selling shirt for that season. It seems that the shirts will still sell regardless of who is on the back, be it due to hype or performance, and if another player steps up to be United’s star player, they will more than likely occupy the shirt sales Pogba once had. This shows how off the pitch there may be an initial dip in financial gain due to Pogba leaving but in the long term it will be negligible.
On the Pitch
Losing Paul Pogba creates a major creative deficit in the United team. As the team’s top goal scorer and top assister last season, it leaves a big hole for any prospective new signings to fill. However, the transfer does not need to be like for like. A central midfielder could provide the similar level of chance creation needed for United to succeed, but a No.10, or a winger could also be the spark that will drive United’s attack. We will look at some of the prospective transfers United could make to solve their problems.
We begin with the 25 year old Argentinian that could be involved as part of the Pogba transfer, as Juventus will look for a more cost-effective way to bring their former European Golden Boy winner back to the Allianz Stadium. Paulo Dybala’s impact in the Juventus team has suffered since the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, with a return of 10 goals and 4 assists. This drop-in form has been consistent with all of Juventus’ attacking line; Dybala was joint 2nd topscorer with Mandzukic, Bernadeschi contributing 2 goals and Douglas Costa contributed 1, such is the effect of Cristiano Ronaldo, with his high level of shots taken and his commanding presence on the field. To base the quality of the player on this season would not give a true representation of his ability.
Therefore, to get a better representation of what Manchester United would be getting as part of the deal, it would be better to look at Dybala’s 2017/18 season; his best in a Juventus shirt. Dybala scored a team high 22 goals in the Serie and contributed 5 assists, he also completed 1.6 key passes a game according to WhoScored.com, the same as Pogba contributed this season. Dybala also completed 2.8 dribbles a game compared to Pogba’s 1.7, this meant that Dybala was a more direct attacking force, taking more players out of the game. Slotting in just behind the striker, Dybala would provide a similar number of goal contributions while adding a great goalscoring threat.
The most natural replacement for Paul Pogba that Manchester United have been heavily linked to is the 24 year old Portuguese playmaker. Bruno Fernandes has contributed to 42 goals in 48 games for Sporting CP this season. With 33 of these coming in the league, this means that Fernandes has contributed to 46% of Sporting’s goals in the Liga NOS this season, compared to Pogba who has contributed to 34% of Manchester United’s league goals. This means that that Fernandes would not be fazed by the weight of expectation to be the creative centre of the Red Devils midfield.
He is also a versatile player, having played on the wing at times this season and in this position, he has shown an aptitude for crossing. Along with his 3.6 key passes per game, Bruno Fernandes completes 1.8 crosses per game. This would allow for a multi-pronged attack for the Red Devils and help them improve greatly in an area where they struggle, despite the relative height of their team, with players such as Lukaku being able to get on the end of high quality crosses. The further tactical versatility this would provide for Solskjaer would be an attractive proposition
With a reported price tag of anywhere between £62-72 million for the midfielder, he would be an expensive risk given that he is unproven in a big league, but his numbers and impact seem to lean towards him being a smart signing to help with United’s rebuild and plug the hole that losing Pogba would leave.
The final player that could be the creative force for United next season is the young English prodigy and winger, Jadon Sancho. Sancho obviously plays in a completely different position than Pogba, but as previously stated it does not need to be a ‘like for like’ replacement, the player just needs to be able to consistently create chances and therefore improve the goalscoring form of the team.
Sancho is 19 years old and English, therefore fitting the young home grown profile linked with Solskjaer’s rebuild, together with other players United have been linked such as Sean Longstaff and Declan Rice. This means his hefty price tag would be justified in United’s long-term plan.
In the league this season, Sancho contributed to 26 goals in the league, 12 goals and 14 assists. He was the second top assister in the top 5 leagues, only coming behind Eden Hazard who contributed 15 assists. As a right sided winger he would also address the problem United have had for many years now where the players they play there, such as Lingard and Mata, prefer to cut in and act as number 10s rather than act as natural wingers.
His pace and skill on the ball would also be a great weapon for Manchester United to start counter attacks and that is probably why Dortmund value him so highly. With the purchase of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard, losing Sancho would not be a great issue for Dortmund, however that does not mean they will sell him any cheaper, meaning United would have to break the bank to get their man.
What’s the damage?
Overall while losing Paul Pogba would be indicative of the revolving door policy that seems to have haunted United since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, it would not be the end of the world for Manchester United. The dependence the squad has on him is more due to the lack of quality overall and with proper investment and a good replacement, his influence will not be sorely missed. While an exceptional world class player on his day, he does at times, suffer from inconsistency, which is problematic when he is the player that United depend upon to operate.
In terms of revenue streams, Manchester United are more than likely to recoup the entire fee plus profit that they paid for Pogba back in 2016 and on pitch performance provides financial results. If the rebuild goes to plan and general performance improves, things such as social media interaction and shirt sales will improve along side this. Some fans, such as myself, will be sad to see Pogba go, but if he was to leave, the impact would hopefully (if all things fall into place) not be the worst thing in the world.