Paul Pogba is one of the brightest young stars in the world today. That Juventus managed to acquire him on a Bosman two summers ago boggles the mind.
Despite a recent dip in form, he is Juventus' best midfielder not named Arturo Vidal. His performance over the past two seasons has attracted the interest of more than one big-money club.
A report from early March in Corriere dello Sport—as relayed by Ben Gladwell of ESPNFC—quoted Juve president Andrea Agnelli as calling his team "a buying club and not a selling one." Interest in Pogba, he says, "cannot scare us."
Agnelli can talk tough, but the vultures are circling. Kirsten Schlewitz of NBC Sports ran down three clubs that could be in for him earlier this week.
The first, Manchester United, doesn't seem a likely destination given his animosity towards the club—and the Daily Mirror on Sunday reported that Pogba fancies a shot at La Liga rather than another run at the Premier League. Real Madrid and PSG are other possible destinations.
For now, Pogba seems happy at Juve. His agent, Mino Raiola, was quoted by Sky Sports as saying "Jewels are not for sale, except if the player asks to leave...we are concentrated on Juventus."
That suggests that Pogba will not be leaving of his own volition anytime soon. But Agnelli's statement deserves closer study—and may well turn out to be misguided.
To understand why it may be in Juve's best interests to sell their phenom, one must look into the past.
Flashback to 2001. Times were better for Juventus then. The stain of Calciopoli was nonexistent. The economic situation in Italy had not yet crumbled. Serie A was still one of the best leagues in the world and Juventus was one of its best teams. The black-and-white stripes graced the backs of players like Del Piero, Trezeguet and Zidane.
Zidane. This is where our marvelous midfielder of the present comes parallel with the ghosts of the past.
In the summer of 2001, Zinedine Zidane was one of the best players in the world. He had powered Juve to consecutive Champions League finals in his first two years and top-two finishes in four of six. But the club hadn't won a scudetto since 1997-98 and hadn't been past the Champions League group stage in two years. The squad needed some upgrades in order to take the next step and reemerge.
That was when Real Madrid came calling. The Spanish power offered a world-record transfer fee of 150 billion lire (approximately €75 million) to buy the Frenchman. The club's director, the now-disgraced Luciano Moggi, accepted.
He flipped that money around and acquired a slew of players that upgraded the squad. Lilian Thuram was brought in to beef up the team's defense. Pavel Nedved was brought in to replace Zidane in midfield and Gianluigi Buffon was signed—on a record fee for a goalkeeper—as an upgrade from Edwin van der Sar.
The move launched yet another run of success. Another two scudetti followed. They again appeared in the Champions League final, only to fall on penalties to another Italian squad, AC Milan.
The sale of their best player had helped build Juve into a juggernaut that only Calciopoli was able to stop.
Agnelli and director Beppe Marotta are now faced with a similar situation with Pogba. While the team has won two consecutive scudetti and are clear and dry for a third, the situation in Europe has been more frustrating.
The 3-5-2 formation that Antonio Conte has used to dominate Italy has been found lacking in Champions League play. The obvious solution is a change in formation—preferably to a 4-3-3—but the team's current personnel aren't optimal for that kind of formation.
But this isn't 2004. Italian teams can't match the spending power of teams like PSG, Real or Chelsea. The only way to bring the players into the squad that are needed to allow the squad to use a 4-3-3 to greatest effect is to sell and reinvest that money, the same way Moggi did 12 summers ago.
Transfermarkt currently lists Pogba's transfer value at €45 million, and in January, Football Italia reported (through Gazzetta dello Sport) that PSG could be willing to spend as much as €70 million for Pogba this summer.
Both of those players would be ideal to plug major holes in a potential 4-3-3—and if Juve sells Pogba, they could potentially buy them with money to spare.
Whether Paul Pogba stays or goes this year is a question for the summer. One thing is clear though: Juve has a fantastic card in their hands that—if used properly—could facilitate the changes that can, at long last, make the team a major player in the Champions League again.
The team would be foolish not to at least explore the possibility.