Paul Pogba: How the one that got away cost Man United £100m
French star set to become world's most expensive player - but it will not be his first controversial transfer
Manchester United are set to complete the signing of Juventus star Paul Pogba for a world-record transfer fee in the coming days, four years after he left Old Trafford with a flea in his ear from former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Since then, the 23-year-old Frenchman has more than fulfilled the promise he showed as a trainee at Old Trafford and getting him back will cost the Red Devils £100m.
So how did Pogba, born just eight miles from Disneyland Paris in the suburb of Lagny-sur-Marne, end up as the biggest brand in football?
Pogba, who has older twin brothers who are also footballers, grew up playing for local teams and was on the books of US Torcy when he was spotted by Ligue 2 side Le Havre at the age of 14.
Not for the first time his move provoked controversy, with Torcy claiming he had been tapped up by Le Havre.
His talent was obvious and scouts were soon watching him in action as captain of the youth side which challenged for the under-16 French title, while Pogba established himself as a French youth international.
He was spotted by United's David Friio, who said: "He's the best player of his age group in that position in the world," reports the Daily Mail.
Pogba agreed to move to Manchester United in 2009, at the age of 16, although Le Havre were furious. They argued he had signed a non-solicitation agreement so could not have any contact with other clubs until his contract had expired. They also claimed United had offered to buy Pogba's parents a house with £87,000 in cash, allegations United were later cleared of.
Pogba's development at Manchester United continued and he was part of a the fabled 2011 team that won the FA Youth Cup and was expected to furnish United with its next generation of stars, with Jesse Lingard, Ravel Morrison, Michael Keane, Tyler Blackett and Ryan Tunnicliffe also in the ranks.
"It seems unfeasible now that a player so incredibly gifted only ever played three league games for the United first team," says the Mail, especially when everyone at the club knew of his potential and he was being groomed as United's next midfield general.
But things began to unravel when Pogba was denied a Premier League debut in December 2011, with Ferguson instead selecting full-back Rafael da Silva in central midfield. Pogba later said he was "disgusted" by the snub, which was exacerbated when Ferguson lured Paul Scholes out of retirement to fill the hole in midfield.
"A saga between club and player that grew ugly quickly did not just have the old-fashioned issue of playing time at its core. It was about power, personality and money, too," says the Mail.
Pogba's choice of agent proved to be key. "Ferguson’s attitude towards agents was always black and white. He either liked you or he didn’t and he certainly didn’t like Pogba’s representative, Mino Raiola, nor indeed the amount of money he believed his young client was worth in the terms of a senior contract that was by then under discussion."
With his contract due to expire at the end of the 2011-12 season and relations disintegrating – the player was now training on his own - Pogba decided to turn his back on United and sign for Juventus. The Italian club were prepared to pay him £20,000 a week, much to Ferguson's fury.
"I don't think he showed us any respect at all," he said when Pogba left, with United receiving just £800,000 in compensation.
But United tuned out to be the losers. Pogba blossomed at Juventus and, playing alongside the maestro Andrea Pirlo, helped the Turin side to its second successive Serie A title in 2013, his first major piece of silverware. That summer, he captained France to the under-20 World Cup as his reputation grew.
Another title followed in 2013-14 but Pogba really exploded the year after, scoring a league goal every three games to win his third and Juventus' fourth successive title. He guided the team to a domestic double and the Champions League final.
Pirlo left Juventus at the end of that campaign and Pogba was given a more creative role in which he thrived as he won yet another title, before helping France make it to the final of Euro 2016.
By now, he was in such demand that United were prepared to break the £100m barrier to buy back their former prodigy. Letting him go has turned out to be an expensive mistake for United and one that Ferguson must be held responsible for, says Eurosport.
"Ferguson made United billions, facilitating their transition from a club with a turnover under £30m when the Premier League started to one with an annual income over £500m now," says the website. But his decision to let Pogba go means that United are now paying the price for the "one that got away".
Indeed, it was "a £99.2m faux pas compounded by the reality United spent £120m on other central midfielders during his four years in Italy".