United count cost of the one Fergie let get away

pogbaMANCHESTER: It may be the costliest round trip in football history — on Paul Pogba, Manchester United are set to spend a reported world-record fee of £89 million ($116.4 million, 105 million euros).

That is for a player who left Old Trafford for just £1.5 million four years ago.

The story of how the France international slipped from United’s grasp so cheaply is one of the less glorious chapters of Alex Ferguson’s final years as the club’s manager.

Ferguson got it right far more often than he got it wrong in his 26-and-a-half years at Old Trafford, winning 38 trophies while finding great deals in the transfer market such as Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

With Pogba, though, there is a strong sense that he made the wrong call, even if there may have been mitigating circumstances.

There are two versions of the tale of Pogba’s cut-price departure for Juventus.

The first, told by the player, his family and his representatives, is about a young midfielder frustrated at a lack of first-team opportunities, and baffled by the players being picked ahead of him.

Pogba had arrived at Old Trafford from Le Havre in 2009 amid controversy, with the French club claiming the move was in breach of an agreement they had with the player, although United were subsequently cleared of wrongdoing by FIFA.

It was clear Ferguson had signed a player of great potential; Pogba made his senior debut against Crawley Town, then a fifth-tier English club, in the fifth round of the FA Cup in February 2011, and helped United win the FA Youth Cup later that season too.

Ferguson acknowledged at that time he would need to start giving Pogba regular first-team opportunities in order to keep him at the club.

Yet it did not happen.

The young midfielder was given the occasional substitute appearance during the first half of the 2011-12 season, but nothing more.

Then came two major Ferguson decisions that convinced Pogba his future lay elsewhere.

On New Year’s Eve 2011, the manager reshuffled his team for a home match against Blackburn Rovers, a team fighting against relegation.

Rather than select Pogba, Ferguson picked Rafael da Silva and Park Ji-Sung in midfield — United lost 3-2.

At the start of January 2012, Ferguson then asked Paul Scholes to come out of retirement, placing another obstacle in Pogba’s path to the first team.

Yeo Moriba, Pogba’s mother, has subsequently suggested her son was being punished because of a dispute over a new contract.

“Ferguson punished him,” Moriba told AFP in June.

“He didn’t play him. Paul was alone. He even cried in Ferguson’s office over the way he was treated.”

As for Ferguson, he felt the player became more difficult to deal with after taking on Mino Raiola as his agent.

In his 2015 book ‘Leading’, the retired United manager described his first meeting with Raiola as “a fiasco”.

“He and I were like oil and water,” Ferguson wrote.

“From then on, our goose was cooked because Raiola had been able to ingratiate himself with Paul and his family and the player signed with Juventus.”

Pogba moved to Serie A in the summer of 2012, with Ferguson saying: “I don’t think he showed us any respect at all.”

The cost of that decision has mounted for United, who have spent £120 million on central midfielders in the four years since.

With Ferguson no longer the manager, and Jose Mourinho now in place, there is little reason for old enmity to resurface as Pogba returns.

United will just be glad to have him back.

The financial sting, though, is a considerable one.