Paul Pogba will have cost Manchester United £179.6 million ($242.6m) in transfer fee and wages by the time his Old Trafford contract expires at the end of June. He now has less than six months to deliver some kind of value for money by helping his drifting club salvage something tangible in the Premier League or Champions League from their dismal season.
When you break down the financial hit of Pogba’s time at United since he returned to the club from Juventus in a then-world record £89.1m ($120.3m) deal in 2016, there are no positive numbers.
The France midfielder’s 213 first-team appearances have come at a cost of £84,319.25 ($113,907.66) per game and his 38 goals have been scored at a pretty expensive rate of £4,726,315.79 ($6.384m) each. And the two major trophies that Pogba has helped United win during almost six years at the club – the Carabao Cup and Europa League in 2017 – come in at £89.8m ($121.3m) apiece.
Had the 28-year-old contributed to a Premier League title or Champions League triumph, the enormous financial outlay on his fee and reported £290,000-a-week ($391,000) wages may just have been worth it. But as the clock ticks down on the final months of his time at United before he is expected to leave as a free agent in the summer, it is impossible to suggest that the move has paid off for club or player, unless you want to factor in the boost to the social media followings of both parties during their time together.
While Pogba has not been the transformative signing that United expected and needed him to be when he arrived at the club shortly after Jose Mourinho’s appointment as manager in the summer of 2016, his failure is by no means solely down to his own shortcomings and inconsistent performances. United have let Pogba down, just as much as they may argue that he has failed to deliver for them.
When he re-signed six years ago, four years after initially leaving Old Trafford for Juventus for little more than an £800,000 compensation fee to cover his development years at United, the then-23-year-old Pogba was sold a vision of leading the team back to the summit of the game, with success in England and Europe quickly returning to the Premier League’s biggest and most successful club. That clearly hasn’t happened, but since 2016, United have hardly built a team around Pogba that would be capable of winning the biggest honours.
The only two defensive midfielders the club has signed since Pogba’s arrival have been Nemanja Matic and Fred. And in terms of attacking midfielders, they have added just Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek. Fernandes has been a big success since his £56.7m signing from Sporting CP in January 2020, but Matic, Fred and Van de Beek would have been regarded as squad fillers at most of United’s rivals and certainly not the quality of player required to take a team to the next level.
Paul Pogba returned after a 10-week injury absence for Manchester United against Middlesbrough. Paul Greenwood – CameraSport via Getty Images
During the same period Liverpool added Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Thiago Alcantara to their midfield while Manchester City signed Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Rodri and Jack Grealish as well as elevating Phil Foden to the first team. Compare those additions to United’s and it’s easy to see a major gulf in quality between the new faces at Anfield and the Etihad as opposed to those at Old Trafford.
Had Pogba been surrounded by players of similar ability, the past six years could have been so much different for both United and Pogba, but the reality has been that the team has stood still — many would even argue it has regressed. That has left Pogba treading water, producing the odd moment of brilliance but largely being a disappointment. United have let him down by failing to sign the kind of players that Pogba is surrounded by when playing for World Cup winners France, but sometimes a big player like Pogba needs to be the driving force on the pitch that takes those around him to greater heights and his failure to do that has been solely down to him.
Between now and the end of the season, Pogba has 16 Premier League games – starting at Burnley on Tuesday – and potentially seven Champions League fixtures to be the player that United expected him to be in 2016 and become the talisman that can inspire Ralf Rangnick’s team to a top-four finish or, unlikely as it seems, Champions League glory.
Injuries have seen Pogba miss 84 of United’s games since 2016. His return from a 10-week absence due to a hamstring problem in Friday’s FA Cup fourth-round defeat against Middlesbrough showed why Pogba can be such an important player for United when he is fit and available. Losing the penalty shootout ultimately claimed the headlines, but Pogba’s 82 minutes on the pitch were a positive in that he won a penalty (which was missed by Cristiano Ronaldo) and gave United the technical ability in the centre of the pitch that no other player at Old Trafford can provide.
Pogba can link play, he is able to carry the ball from defence to attack and his creativity in the attacking third of the pitch makes the team a more potent force. In Premier League appearances alone for United, he has delivered more assists than goals (36/28) in his 143 league games since returning in 2016. But unless he can produce a football miracle by inspiring United to Champions League success this season – they face Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 this month – Pogba’s time at Old Trafford will undoubtedly be judged to be a huge disappointment.
He cannot escape that reality, and the very least fans should expect is for Pogba to finish on a flourish – even if that just means helping United qualify for next season’s Champions League; it is a challenge he should give everything to meet.
Note: This article is written by Mark Ogden, senior writer of ESPN, which has been published at ESPN FC