It seems our most clinical and decisive transfer window in four years has come to a dramatic, albeit not that surprising conclusion, with the signing of Paul Pogba. The Frenchman, originally on our books since coming to us from Le Harve in 2009 at the age of 16, has left Juventus to come back, in his words, “home”.
Zlatan might disagree, but this transfer window will be remembered for the capture of the world’s most expensive association football signing. To call the £89m fee eye-watering would be akin to describing Sir Alex’s tenure at the club as a moderate success. All eyes will now be on Pogba, to see whether he can justify the exorbitant amount his old/new club have paid for him, though the ever-confident player doesn’t seem all that fazed:
However, Pogba’s return amounts to more than just the re-acquisition of a man who is now the most expensive footballer in the world; it symbolises Manchester United wrestling control back as one of the biggest clubs in the world. Pogba had numerous suitors ready to help him realise his dream to become the world’s best footballer, none less than Real Madrid. Sir Alex once described Real as a virus, and in many ways he was right. Los Merengues have taken 3 of United’s best players away (Ronaldo, Beckham, Van Nistelrooy), attacking the anatomy of the club and leaving us in a weakened state. We have also seen them beat us in the transfer market to many potential box office signings – Kroos and Bale come to mind. All this done with brash showboating and pantomime fanfare that is the quintessential Real way.
Madrid may have been a thorn stuck deeply in our side, but we’ve been outmaneuvered by others too. Bayern and Barca have presented their own challenges – remember the Ronaldinho affair, or to a lesser extent Thiago Silver? The last two United managers have consistently been beaten in the market to top players. However, the last four years, if nothing else, have been a wake-up call to the Glazers.
By opting out of offering the job to Jose Mourinho when Sir Alex sadly announced his retirement in 2012, the club’s owners made a huge mistake. Going with a man completely unproven at the highest level – someone who’d never won a single trophy – can now be seen for what it was: an unmitigated disaster. The fact Ed Woodward had to cut his teeth in elite football at the same time as the manager was a catastrophe that could have been sidestepped, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Skip forward two managers, one champions league finish, one FA Cup and umpteen unwanted records broken in four years to this last month. Jose Mourinho officially started his job on July 1st and decisively identified areas in which United needed to strengthen. He signed Bailiy – an unproven yet promising defender from Villarreal, and Mhkitaryan – a winger/attacking midfielder who was not only voted the Bundesliga player’s player of year, but also scored 11 goals and provided a league-topping 14 assists last season. Jose then went on to put a contract in front of one of the most talismanic footballers in the world, a rather confident man named Zlatan, and now Mourinho has firmly placed the cherry atop the pie in securing Pogba to add some genuine class in an area of the pitch where Manchester United have been lacking for years. And years. And years.
The Portuguese has clinically gone about his business in a manner that neither Van Gaal nor Moyes could manage. The fact United tried to sign Pogba during Moyes’ reign is testament to the Scot’s lack of pulling power. The approach that both Moyes and LVG adapted seemed to be scattergun in nature, a mix of last-minute gambles and questionable marquee signings that either failed to make the grade or were incorrectly used.
Mata is a perfect example of this – he has been the ultimate victim of circumstance at Old Trafford. Signed because Mourinho didn’t favour him in his Chelsea side, Moyes used the winter transfer window to buy Mata in a desperate attempt to appease the fans after a truly abysmal summer and a poor start to the club’s Premier League defence. Mata, a technically-gifted number 10 and thoroughly nice bloke, was not really what the team needed, despite an element of excitement when he flew in to Carrington by helicopter. He was consistently used out of position by both of our former managers, utilised as a (“false”) winger when this particular peg fits in a different hole – behind the strikers to be precise.
Fellaini, Di Maria, Falcao and Schweinsteiger have all too been victim of this random approach. Not Jose though; he has brought in players for positions he knows he is light on, and knows that is where they will play. Woodward too seems to have learned after four years how to conduct business, hopefully continuing to pull the strings from behind the scenes and not making an appearance on MUTV in an effort to get exposure and have a little brag about how quality he is.
There has been a seismic shift at Old Trafford as the red half of Manchester look towards the 16/17 season. United seem to have restored some of the glitz and glamour that had been so synonymous with the club and had been completely tarnished by the reign of two managers who never really seemed to understand what Man Utd means to its fans and the wider footballing landscape. We are one of, if not the biggest team in the world, as Zlatan recently stated. Mourinho is treating his job and the club like he knows this fact. Obviously success on the pitch will be the barometer of Jose’s time with United, but the transfers completed by our new manager have shown intent, wisdom and authority that has been sorely missing.
Jose Mourinho has not just brought Pogba back; he’s going to bring Premier League football home.