All posts by Casey Evans

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.

Paulo Dybala

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.

Bruno Fernandes

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.

Jadon Sancho

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.

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Which midfielders should Tottenham sign in the summer window?

On June 1st 2019, Tottenham Hotspur played Liverpool FC in the Champions League final, unfortunately losing 2-0 after a first half penalty from Mohammed Salah and a second half finish by Divock Origi. However, if you were to suggest that Spurs would have ended up with a top 4 finish and a shot at winning the Champions League after being the first ever club to not make a signing in a transfer window since the current format came into existence in 2003, it would have been considered a bold prediction to say the least. In fact, it is their last signing, Lucas Moura, who has been instrumental in their run, scoring a hat-trick to come back against Ajax and secure Tottenham’s place in the final.

However, there were times during their last campaign where their lack of squad depth started to affect their performance after a slew of injuries, and this contributed to their poor end to the season. This was evident in their midfield. Therefore, if they do decide to spend big in the summer, this might be the area they choose to focus on. We have identified 3 transfers Spurs could invest in to address this dilemma.

Giovanni Lo Celso

Lo Celso appears to be Tottenham Hotspurs first target of the summer, with BBC Sport reporting that they had submitted a £53 million bid for the player. Lo Celso spent last season on loan from PSG with Real Betis and impressed with his crucial performances, Betis exercised their option to buy the player. Lo Celso was Betis’ topscorer in the league with 9 goals and contributed 4 assists and is probably seen by Tottenham as the perfect successor to Moussa Dembele. Since the Belgian began to suffer from recurrent injuries and then eventually moved to Chinese outfit Guangzhou R&F, Spurs have been missing an elite level ball progresser in their midfield, but they may have found their answer in Lo Celso.

According to Whoscored, across the 2018/19 season Lo Celso contributed to 2.1 tackles and interceptions per game while completing 2 dribbles and 0.8 key passes. Comparing this to Dembele’s 2017/18 season where he contributed 2.5 tackles and interceptions a game, 2.4 dribbles and 0.6 key passes, we can clearly see the similar traits that Tottenham see in the young Argentinian midfielder. Signing Lo Celso will allow Tottenham to quickly turn defence into attack and allow for more effective transitional play. He provides the North London outfit with a different option in midfield to what they currently have with Wanyama, Winks and Dier and therefore would be a fantastic signing.

The midfielder has a £88 million release clause meaning Tottenham may have to bid more in order to get their man, but if they were to secure the signing it would be a quality move.

James Maddison

With the future of Christian Eriksen’s career increasingly in doubt (the Danish midfielder’s contract expires in 2020) Tottenham may have to spend big in the transfer market to find a replacement. Eriksen joined for a bargain fee of £12 million in 2013 and has performed spectacularly for the Lilywhites, most recently scoring 8 goals and registering 12 assists in the 2018/19 Premier League season. His creative output cannot be understated and is an important part of the Tottenham offensive line, therefore it is important they replace him. Enter James Maddison.

When Leicester spent £24 million on the young English midfielder, they probably did not realise they were making the signing of the season. His numbers were impressive in the Championship; he scored 14 goals and provided 8 assists, while completing 2.8 key passes a game and 2.4 dribbles, but it was common belief that his numbers would suffer as he stepped up to a bigger league. However, while his goals and assists dropped to 7 and 7 respectively, Maddison has taken the league by storm this season, he has kept his average of 2.8 key passes a game (0.7 more than Eriksen has at Tottenham) and more importantly, according to Opta Sports, he was the only player to create 100 chances in the Premier League this season.

It would take a large bid to part Leicester with what can now be considered their prized asset, but if he was to move it seems he would almost seamlessly fit into Tottenham’s offence.

Tanguy Ndombele

The final target that I feel needs to be addressed is that of Tanguy Dembele. The transfer links to the French midfielder are not in short supply, with both Manchester City and Manchester United apparently being interested in the midfielder. But what would he offer Tottenham?

Tanguy Ndombele is a high energy midfielder, who has registered 1 goal and 7 assists for Lyon in Ligue 1 this season. The midfielder you could most compare him to in Tottenham’s midfield is Mousa Sissoko, who seems a completely new player this season, with his pressing ability making him the engine to an otherwise stationary Tottenham midfield. However, Sissoko turns 30 this year and has arguably left it a little too late to enter the form of his life and there is no guarantee that he will continue this form into next season, due to his track record of inconsistency. Tottenham may look to replace him with what looks to be the younger, hungrier model who has a much higher ceiling.

Ndombele registered 2.8 tackles and interceptions per game last season and completed 1.9 dribbles per game, so like Lo Celso he is highly press resistant and would allow Tottenham to quickly counter.  With this transfer it appears it will be either/or between Ndombele and Lo Celso as neither would likely want to play second string. Transfermarkt.com values Ndombele at 50 million euros, so if Betis were to push for Tottenham to play Lo Celso’s release clause, he may be the slightly cheaper option. With the purse strings appearing to be tight due to the construction of Tottenham’s new stadium, this may appeal to Levy and the rest of the board.