The Last Word: Sir Alex Ferguson may well come to rue refusal to nurture Paul Pogba
Pogba has proved an instant sensation in Italy at Juventus, hailed as a new Vieira
If Zlatan Ibrahimovic seemed unusually meek, in awarding himself only 10 out of 10, then he hardly compares in arrogance with those won round now that he has "finally" matched his billing against an English team. Let's hope they enjoy watching Ryan Shawcross restoring his self-esteem against Andy Carroll when Stoke play West Ham on Monday.
Last month Tobias Sana, a debutant substitute, got in Ibra's way to miss an open goal against Germany. It was late in the game, and Sweden could hardly expect another chance to complete their comeback from 0-4. Ibra, having fleetingly betrayed an instinct to tear off Sana's head, instead put a consoling arm round his shoulder and urged him not to lose heart. Sure enough, Ibra proceeded to set up an equaliser in added time.
It was an instructive vignette, but did not alter the fact that Ibra has always seen clouds of incense gathering around him. Cristiano Ronaldo, likewise, shows how a dominant personality can sometimes harness the most brazen egotism to football's defining team ethic.
You have to admire those managers who escort these high-risk, high-stakes characters along the margin between challenge and indulgence – as, for instance, Roberto Mancini with Mario Balotelli. And if one man can develop a strong professional relationship with both Ibra and Balotelli – their agent, Mino Raiola – then a mentor as seasoned as Sir Alex Ferguson could surely have won over Paul Pogba, if only he thought him worth the hassle.
As it was, after a total of seven substitute cameos for Manchester United, Raiola secured the teenager a move to Juventus. Pogba was promptly reviled as greedy and Ferguson accused him of the cardinal sin: disrespect. "Matt Busby summed it up perfectly," he said. "You don't need to chase money at a club like Manchester United, it will eventually find you."
But the reported terms of Pogba's deal in Turin are relatively modest, and hardly represented a meaningful obstacle. The bottom line is that he needed an extremely good reason to make the move he did – from a club with a midfield that is exciting cosmologists, in their quest to discover what preceded the Big Bang, to one whose recent 49-game unbeaten streak found its bedrock in Messrs Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal.
Raiola presumably compared Ferguson's preferred midfield solutions – ranging from the geriatric to the terminally pedestrian – with a new imperative of rotation at Juventus, restored to the Champions League. And Pogba has proved an instant sensation in Italy, hailed as a new Vieira. That sounds premature, and if Vieira was all about the engine, then Pogba may sooner prove to be about the wire wheels and mahogany dashboard. Indeed, a relatively languid style may well have located the same blind spot in Ferguson as did Dimitar Berbatov. If so, seeing how the latter's prime was criminally wasted, Pogba should be congratulated for having the nerve to quit.
Le Havre, after all, believe United forfeited the moral high ground when they hired Pogba in the first place. Over as many as 26 years, of course, even a man as astute as Ferguson is bound to have the odd Gerard Pique or Giuseppe Rossi on his conscience. In each case, no doubt, there have been unaccountable, individual factors. And these remain perilously early days with Pogba. None the less, Ferguson can be in no hurry for their paths to cross in Europe.
Pogba's first Juventus goal was volleyed outside the box, against Napoli; he then proved a match-winner, in every sense, against Bologna. After a curled 20-yarder against the post, he opened up the defence with a chip to set up the first goal, and headed a winner in added time.
Many Juventus fans had been disappointed when Marco Verratti left Pescara to join Ibra at PSG, at a reported cost of €12m. After one training session, however, senior professionals at Juventus were shaking their heads over the lad who had arrived, gratis, instead.
Pogba may not be a straightforward case. Antonio Conte dropped him last week, after two late arrivals for training, which may also account for his absence from the French team that beat Balotelli's Italy on Wednesday. But Juventus already know they have acquired a valuable long-term asset, who can either be sold at a profit or allow them to cash in Vidal.
Those who had never "got" Ibra will doubtless tell you now that Pogba was not cut out for the hustle and bustle of the Premier League. And if he was only ever going to pant around an under-manned central zone, dutifully spreading the ball wide, they may even have a point. In a market dominated by oligarchs and oil sheikhs, however, Ferguson may yet regret his reluctance to blood Pogba.
Ibra himself, after all, has never dissembled, never pretended himself motivated by fealty to a given shirt or manager. Balotelli asks: "Why always me?" Whatever you think of his coiffure, after nine titles in 10 seasons, Ibra knows the answer: "Because I'm worth it."
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