When Manchester United confirmed they had completed the signing of Paul Pogba from Juventus for a world-record fee of £ 89million back in August 2016, few would have predicted that history would repeat itself.
Pogba left United on a free transfer to join the Italian heavyweights at the age just 19 back in July 2012 after refusing to sign a new contract. Almost a decade on, Pogba has left Old Trafford for free once again, only this time he has done so after failing to live up to a record-breaking price tag.
He was brought back to Old Trafford with the task of becoming the jewel in United’s crown. The club had recruited a world-class manager in Jose Mourinho and had signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic earlier in the window, meaning Pogba was the icing on the cake. At least he was meant to be.
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United often struggled to find his best position and get the best out of him. He wanted to become an imposing figure in midfield and set the tone for the success that the club was meant to enjoy as a result of his return to Old Trafford.
Pogba, at the time of his return to United, said: “There’s no words, to be honest, there’s no words. I just came back to Carrington. It was like I’d just come back home.
“I just went for a holiday, looks like I went for a holiday. The thing with me is I only think about the pitch. I want to do great, I want to be one of the best, I want to win titles.
“I want to achieve things and that’s all, that’s why I came here, just to do this, to become one of the best and to win titles because I know this club has to win titles. I just focus on this and that’s it. “I’m just ready to go and work on that and just kill it.”
Pogba’s second spell as a United player saw him win two titles – but they were two (the League Cup and Europa League) that probably did not even enter his mind when he made the above statement. While there is an argument that he returned to United at the wrong time, with the club still struggling, just as it is now, to get back on its feet after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2013, he never imposed himself enough, and in the latter stages of his United career he did not appear to be as invested in matters at club-level as he was for France.
His departure, as the club prepares to enter a new era under Erik ten Hag, could not have arrived at a better time. Although nothing can be guaranteed in football, you can, on this occasion, guarantee that he will not be returning to United for a third time.
Pogba’s exit, which will become official when his United contract expires on June 30, paves the way for United to build a new-look midfield. It is the area of the team that needs the most maintenance this summer and the club has already pinpointed exactly who they want to be the poster boy of that rebuild. The man in question is Frenkie de Jong.
The Barcelona midfielder has been on United’s radar for over a month and there is a growing feeling in the air that a deal might just happen, even if the clubs are yet to reach any sort of agreement. De Jong would not even have been considered a realistic target for United this summer had Ten Hag not been appointed as the club’s new manager. It is their relationship that will make this deal happen if it does come off.
But while various reports have suggested that De Jong is sceptical about leaving Barcelona for a club with no Champions League football to offer him next term, the truth is, right now, no one knows exactly how De Jong feels about the prospect of moving to Manchester . But if he does make the move, it would suggest that he is confident in being reunited with Ten Hag and buying into his plans.
At the age of just 25, De Jong is yet to reach his peak. He has several more gears to move up through before he reaches the pinnacle of his career. Under Ten Hag at Ajax, the Dutchman was a joy to watch, often dictating games from deep and imposing himself in just about every game he has ever played in.
If United can enjoy such luxury from De Jong, he is going to get noticed. United’s midfield, for several years, has been crying out for someone who can get on the ball and make things happen from deep. He is a steady operator and knows exactly what Ten Hag would be looking for from him.
Therefore, that partnership and his understanding of Ten Hag’s demands could be just what United need in a central midfielder. They thought they were getting an imposing figure in Pogba, but De Jong, because of who’s in the dugout, could be the answer.
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