The long road home: Why Pogba's joined Man United at the perfect time - and could be worth every penny
Paul Pogba's return to Manchester United has got a lot of people talking. Gone are the days when a player's arrival would get a sentence on teletext and nothing more: now we have teasing Tweets, dramatic videos and billboards and someone's mum who works in the laundry room leaking the news.
The main talking point surrounding the deal, though, is the huge sum of money paid by United for a player who was already on their books just four years ago. Sir Alex Ferguson earmarked Pogba as a player for the future in the Frenchman's final year at the club, and his decision to bring Paul Scholes out of retirement and use Rafael Da Silva in midfield instead of promoting the talented youth product came back to haunt the Red Devils.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 9, 2016
Pogba later revealed that the midfield pairing of Rafael and Park Ji-sung in United's 3-2 home defeat by Blackburn in December 2011 was the straw that broke the camel's back. Along with agent Mino Raiola, the teenager made the decision to leave Old Trafford and join Italian giants Juventus at the end of his contract.
It's not about the money
The facts don't support that narrative, though: the stumbling block was a lack of playing time, not an inadequate wage packet
Former United coaches Rene Meulensteen and Paul McGuinness later confirmed that Pogba was in their plans for the following season, but it was a case of too little, too late.
Ferguson was unwilling to take any responsibility for his exit, instead pointing the finger at Raiola, and the prominent idea at the time was that Pogba was a money-hungry mercenary guided by an even greedier agent. The facts don't support that narrative, though: the stumbling block was a lack of playing time, not an inadequate wage packet.
"It was a very, very difficult moment for me," Pogba later admitted. "I was in love with Manchester and I was Mancunian." The youngster clearly wanted to make it at Old Trafford, but the chance to do so didn't seem to be on the table.
In Italy, Pogba earned just £23,000 per week for his first two seasons, in which he quickly racked up close to 100 appearances. When you consider that Tom Cleverley was earning over three times that amount at Old Trafford, it becomes clear Pogba didn't depart for the money.
Could David Moyes or Louis van Gaal have persuaded Pogba to stay following seventh, fourth and fifth-place finishes in the Premier League?
With Ferguson now retired and United on to their third manager since his departure, enough water seems to have passed under the bridge to allow Pogba to return. Nevertheless, there's no escaping the fact that paying £89 million for a player who left for just £800,000 in 2012 is a little embarrassing for the club.
Pre-Brexit, €105 million would have seen Pogba cost as much as Cristiano Ronaldo did seven years ago and less than Gareth Bale did in 2013. As it is, he's now the most expensive footballer in the history of the game.
Many have argued that Ferguson would've acted differently had he properly understood how much potential Pogba had, but then hindsight is a wonderful thing. What's more, while that might have saved United a considerable amount of money, it may well have cost them Pogba: if the Frenchman had made the breakthrough and excelled at Old Trafford from 2012/13 onwards, would he still be on the Red Devils' books today?
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 9, 2016
Pogba won four league titles in four seasons in Italy, but that ultimately wasn't enough to keep him in Serie A. Could David Moyes or Louis van Gaal have persuaded Pogba to stay following seventh, fourth and fifth-place finishes in the Premier League?
It's a hypothetical question to which we'll never know the answer, but it's not incomprehensible to imagine that Real Madrid or Barcelona would have come calling at some point in those three years. Juve were in a position of power this summer, with Pogba not forcing through are a move, but the situation could have been altogether different had he stayed at United in the first place.
Value for money?
Based on the respective clubs' turnovers - United are predicted to make £510 million this year - the outlay for Pogba is the equivalent of Everton spending £21 million on a player or Tottenham Hotspur parting with £33 million
£89 million is a huge price to pay, but it will be hard to argue with the transfer fee if Pogba proves to be the missing piece of the puzzle and leads United to the title this term. Much like Anthony Martial, who enjoyed a fantastic debut season after being labelled overpriced last summer, the fee will be irrelevant if Mourinho's men are champions come May.
Based on the respective clubs' turnovers - United are predicted to make £510 million this year - the outlay for Pogba is the equivalent of Everton spending £21 million on a player or Tottenham Hotspur parting with £33 million. Pogba also cost less than Manchester City paid for Eliaquim Mangala and Raheem Sterling, and the same as Liverpool splurged on Christian Benteke, Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli. In that context, perhaps United have actually got themselves a good deal.
Ultimately, though, what Pogba does next will determine how his world-record fee comes to be viewed. Ronaldo, after all, has been a bargain for Madrid at £80 million, whereas Fernando Torres' £50 million move to Chelsea quickly came to be seen as an expensive mistake.
Mourinho's assembled a solid spine at Old Trafford, and David de Gea, Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should be the envy of most clubs in Europe - even if Chris Smalling is something of a weak link at centre-back.
Pogba should thrive in such an environment, particularly as he seems determined to belatedly make it at Old Trafford. "I've come back home," he said in his first interview with the club. "I think it's destiny."
Supporters will be hoping there's a happy ending to the strange tale of Pogba, who's joined, left and re-joined United in the space of seven years. If the France international can help United win trophies on a regular basis once more, he'll be worth every penny.