How many players have won a World Cup and been sent off for scoring a penalty? Possibly only Paul Labile Pogba. Michael Renouf paints a portrait of his career
Pogba was born in the Parisian suburb of Lagny-sur-Marne on 15 March 1993 to a Guinean dad and mum with Congolese roots. He arrived after twins Mathias and Florentin, who are international footballers for Guinea, while Paul plays for France.
As a youngster he played for Le Havre in Normandy and soon attracted the attention of major clubs including Manchester United, whom he joined in 2009.
This upset Le Havre greatly who claimed they had a “non-solicitation agreement” which was agreed to not only by the player but also his parents – the idea behind the agreement being that the French club would be able to sign the teenager to a youth contract when he came of age.
In a nasty spat, Le Havre criticised the Pogba family as well as United, even alleging that the Red Devils had paid £87,000 and given a house to the Pogbas, and asked FIFA to probe the situation.
The Manchester club was cleared of any wrongdoing in the subsequent inquiry, but this would not be the last time controversy enveloped a Paul Pogba transfer.
He made his professional debut on 20 September 2011 away to Leeds United at Elland Road as a substitute in the League Cup, replacing Ryan Giggs in a 3-0 win.
However back in March, while playing in the FA Youth Cup against bitter rivals Liverpool, he received his marching orders after scoring from the spot. United had been drawn away in the quarter-finals and in front of 12,000 fans, Ryan Tunnicliffe was hauled down in the area and up stepped Pogba to take the spot-kick.
After a stuttering run-up, he dummied as he took the penalty and then rolled it easily into the net, with the Liverpool keeper already committed. However, the referee took umbrage to this and brandished a yellow card, the Frenchman’s second of the game, so he was off – a decision even the Liverpool keeper thought was harsh that day, stating publicly, “just retaking the penalty would have been enough”.
Pogba enters the big time
His Premier League debut, under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, followed early in 2012 as a substitute in a 2-0 triumph over Stoke City. Cue the end of the season, cue another contentious transfer: enter stage left, Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola, seen by many, especially in Manchester, as the game’s ‘number one pantomime villain’.
Still a teenager, Pogba was offered around £20,000 a week to stay – the best-ever contract for a reserve player at the club – but it was rejected and he moved on to join Juventus in Italy.
He made his debut for the Italian giants on 22 September 2012 against Verona in a 2-0 home victory, playing a full 90 minutes for the first time in his career.
The following month he made his Champions League debut with a brief substitute appearance against Shakhtar Donetsk and on 20 October, scored his first-ever goal as a professional in a 2-0 home victory over Napoli in Serie A.
Up to the turn of the year, he made a combination of starts and appearances from the bench. Once into 2013, he was a starter more often than not and had established himself as regular by the time he got sent off playing against Palermo in the final 10 minutes for spitting – hopefully something that will stop at all levels of the game since the coronavirus – at their Salvatore Aronica stadium, as Juventus claimed their 29th title.
He ended his debut season in Turin with his first Serie A winner’s medal, 37 appearances (including eight in the Champions League), five goals, and he had also made his international debut for France in March 2013 when coach Didier Deschamps had selected him to start against Georgia in a World Cup qualifier. Overall, this was a considerably better return than his seven appearances and no goals the previous season in Manchester.
In the summer he dropped back down to captain the national side in the Under-20 World Cup held in Turkey, scoring in the penalty shoot-out as France overcame Uruguay in the final. He also picked up the Golden Ball trophy, awarded to the tournament’s best player. In September he scored his first goal for France’s senior side in a 4-2 victory over Belarus. After more fine displays in Juve’s midfield at the end of the year he picked up the Golden Boy trophy, bestowed upon the best player under 21 playing in one of Europe’s top tiers.
The summer of 2014 brought the Brazilian World Cup where he excelled, winning the Best Young Player Award whilst playing a part in every French game and scoring the winner against Nigeria before Les Bleus lost to eventual champions Germany in the quarter-finals.
After four highly successful seasons in Italy, where he proved himself to be one of the best players in the world and won the title every season, plus the odd cup, his only real failure was not landing the Champions League.
The nearest he came was in 2015. After defeating reigning champions Real Madrid in the semi-final, it was a bridge too far to overcome the other goliaths of Spanish football in the final. The Old Lady (Juventus) went down 3-1 to a Barcelona side containing a front three of Neymar, Suarez and Messi. Barca landed their fourth title in 10 seasons, a record the Turin club can only look at with envy.
He was selected for the French squad for Euro 2016, held on home soil. Les Bleus reached the final but Pogba had a poor game as the hosts were vanquished 1-0 by Portugal.
Back to the Red Devils
After another protracted transfer saga, Pogba re-signed for Manchester United, who that summer had appointed José Mourinho into their hot seat.
It was a fraught relationship, with the Portuguese manager failing to get the best out of the Frenchman. The transfer fee was a then world record sum of £89.3m.
While most Manchester United fans accepted that they would have to pay a premium for a player who had left for next to nothing, what many could not accept was the alleged £41m that went into his agent’s pocket; the majority of such amounts does not come from the player but the clubs involved, which is seen by many in the game as immoral at best.
He made his second debut for the Red Devils in a 2-0 victory at home to Southampton, and scored his first-ever goal for the club in a 4-1 demolition of surprise champions Leicester City in front of the Old Trafford faithful.
He helped his new charges to their most successful season since the Ferguson era, winning two cups – the EFL Cup and the Europa League, in the latter of which he opened the scoring in a 2-0 final victory over a young Ajax side.
Since then, Pogba has won only one team trophy, the one that really matters – the World Cup. In Russia 2018, he not only produced a level of performance that was often missing in the red of Manchester, he was also one of the leaders in the dressing room, capping it all by scoring France’s third goal in a pulsating final against Croatia – with a left-foot shot from the edge of the area after his own right-footed effort had been blocked.
Paul won United’s player of the month for January this year with some fine displays but his critics point to the fact that it feels like his whole time at United has been dominated by transfer rumours. At time of writing it seems that United are in the run to keep him for the 2021-22 season, but the outcome in negotiations with his agent is far from certain.