It was around this time a year ago when the buzz first began; Juventus had set their sights on an interesting young addition for the summer. At the time, Paul Pogba was a Manchester United youth player who had just begun to receive call-ups to the first team. Reports suggested the reason for Pogba’s sudden inclusion into Sir Alex Ferguson’s setup was the player’s reluctance to sign an extension to his expiring contract. Juventus intended to sign the client of Mino Raiola for free after June.
Spring folded into summer, Juventus went onto be crowned Serie A champions for the 30th time, and United disappointingly lost the EPL title on the final day of the season to bitter rivals City. As Euro 2012 was set to begin, chatter about Pogba remained at a whisper. A phalanx of Juventus players would represent Italy that summer, while Beppe Marotta continued to work the back channels. Corroborating the earlier reports, the Old Lady clearly seemed intent to add depth to their greatest asset, midfield. Promising youngsters such as Ouasim Buoy, Gabriel Appelt, and Manuel Giandonato already filled out the youth-team ranks, and Luca Marrone had been earning first-team experience, but chatter remained about new, young additions. While most of the attention was focused on the transfer that didn’t happen – that of Marco Verratti who ended up at PSG after Pescara chose the riches the French team could offer – the deal for Pogba was quietly completed by July, with little fanfare on the Turin side of the equation.
As someone who follows, cheers for, and writes about the Bianconeri, I must admit that I followed this move with a keen level of intrigue and excitement from the moment the rumors began. I do not write this now with the benefit of hindsight in order to imply some brilliant sense of prognostication or eye for talent upon myself. Far from it. In fact, I had never heard of the young Frenchman before. My opinion was based on twofold knowledge.
One, the fact that Ferguson very clearly did not want to lose Pogba, even hypocritically questioning the morality of the move despite the questionable manner in which he was signed by Man U in the first place. This fact, and the manner in which the sentiment was shared by supporters excited me. If a manager with an eye for young talent such as Ferguson was so upset, the kid must be special (the opposite applies just as readily, and one need look no further than Arsene Wenger’s willingness to let Nicklas Bendtner go). Two, the second hand accounts that I had begun to read from the articles which popped up, combined with the research I had begun on my own. I think quite a few would be betting on Pogba to have a bright future.
Tall and lanky, pundits described Pogba as a fast, strong, and physically imposing box-to-box midfielder, with above-average technical abilities, a potent outside shot, and a penchant for the spectacular. Many praised his tendency to and abilities in attack, describing his defense with something to be desired. He was often referred to as the new Patrick Vieira. Most assumed that the youngster would be lent out or sent to the primavera, while others got ahead of themselves and wondered out loud which of the three MVP midfield roles he could fit into. Would he sit just above the central defense, ready to spray passes about the pitch like Pirlo? Well no, that would have, nay should have been Verratti’s job. Perhaps like Marchisio he could tirelessly work the midfield, combining slick dribbling with give-and-go passes, while making runs through defensive channels looking for a decisive goal. Maybe his physical abilities would lend himself to vice Vidal status for a couple of years, constantly winning the ball, making tackles, and doing virtually everything in the center of the pitch. Time would eventually answer this question, although to date there remains no easy answer.
Preseason ended, and summer faded into the beginning of the Serie A season. Many analysts thought the teenager would regret leaving the prestige of Manchester United, especially for a country which notoriously values experience over raw talent. Despite this, Pogba slowly made his way into friendly matches, and was handed the sacred number 6 shirt. While many assumed this was a temporary preseason squad number, and remained insistent that he would be loaned or sent to the youth ranks, a funny thing happened. The Serie A season began in full force. Luca Marrone had been covering as the middle center back and remained there, while the aforementioned primavera were all loaned out to gain experience at smaller clubs, Pogba remained with the first team, number 6 in tow.
First as a sub, then as a spot starter when the need arose, Pogba began a steady integration into the first team in league, then Champions League matches — this in all three of the MVP positions, each to equally positive results. Startlingly, at just 19 years of age, he has been as good as advertised. While not quite the maestro that Pirlo is (but really, who is?) when placed in the deep-lying playmakers’ spot, he has filled in that role comfortably when called upon, while excelling in the M-V positions to greater success. His skill has been exceptional, his defense better than originally believed, and I doubt anyone reading this needs to be told how accurate that whole “good outside shot” thing has been.
Now Paul Pogba is a mainstay on Juventus’ first team setup. Having just turned 20 this month, it may no longer be apropos to continue the “Teenaged Mutant Ninja Pogba” nickname I bestowed upon him, but with his continuing form the comparisons have not ceased. The Vieira one remains, while others, such as Rijkaard have been thrown about. Perhaps most accurately “Paul the Octopus” can be compared to Marcel Desailly, another former jack of all trades French midfielder who earned the same mollusk-themed moniker.
But maybe, and most likely, Paul Pogba isn’t comparable to any other player. As the global game evolves, and midfielders are constantly asked to be more versatile and do more, Pogba has proven equal to virtually any task. It is easy to envision ten years from now a crop of promising midfielders referred to as “the new Pogba.” For now, he is a young mainstay in an incredibly strong and deep Juventus midfield, and will be an important part of the rotation for a team competing on multiple fronts for years to come. As for the naysayers who thought he would die on the vine at Juventus, it seems as if Pogba is having the last laugh.