It wasn't so long ago that Paul Pogba was more famous for his transfers than he was for for his abilities with a football.
First, he was one of the players named in the 2009 tapping-up controversy, but when he defied Sir Alex Ferguson and signed with Juventus July 2012, he made a move that continues to define his career—and reveals plenty about the ambition at Manchester United.
When he made the decision to leave Old Trafford—a place that would ordinarily represent the pinnacle of any young player's ambition—plenty wondered if it was a move motivated by money, but Pogba has always maintained he joined Juve to play so that he could develop as a player and fulfill his huge potential.
Now, he's been completely vindicated. The 21-year-old Frenchman has since taken Serie A by storm and will be one of the most closely observed players at this summer's World Cup.
In an interview for a documentary back in January with France's Canal+ (h/t ESPN.co.uk), Pogba revealed that it was seeing a right-back—and an underwhelming one at that—being picked ahead of him in midfield that made him realise he'd have to leave if he was going to be properly appreciated:
It was a very, very difficult moment for me because I was in love with Manchester and I was a Mancunian.
It was the match against Blackburn in December 2011 at Old Trafford.
Paul Scholes had retired, Darren Fletcher was injured. There was no one left to play in midfield. And I was training and I was beginning to get better bit by bit and the coach never stopped telling me, 'You're this far'.
And I didn't understand. This far away from what? Playing? From having some playing time? From getting on the field? Or what?
And there was Rafael in midfield and I was disgusted.
I'd lost that thing, that relation that I had with the coach. I was really disappointed, really disappointed. I was pushed. My eyes were opened. I'd made this decision to sign with Juventus. There was nothing to regret.
It didn't happen often, but Ferguson got Pogba completely wrong. The Premier League and Serie A are very different, but the fact that he could move to Turin and quickly establish himself in one of the world's best midfields as a teenager suggests that he was ready for action in Manchester, too.
The midfield has been a weak point for recent United squads, and if Pogba was able to earn a place alongside Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, there's no reason to think he couldn't do it with Michael Carrick and an ageing Ryan Giggs.
Maybe the club underestimated just how good he really was. It can happen.
However, when looked at in the context of United as a whole at the end of Ferguson's reign, it's another example of poor decision-making—most likely from those in charge of the purse strings at board level.
Had they hung on to Pogba, it isn't an exaggeration to say that alongside Rooney and Mata, he'd be their best player. If he continues developing like he is now, he'll soon be better than both.
Having him at the centre of midfield, with all his dynamism, intelligence, skill and power, would make the whole squad a completely different prospect.
There was an implication from Ferguson at the time that Juve had been doing business behind his back—ironic, considering how Pogba had arrived in the UK in the first place—but the player has been clear: All he wanted to do was play.
Transfermarkt suggests he's now valued at €45 million, but refuses to fuel speculation of a move and seems happy at the Bianconeri and eager to repay the coach who showed faith in him.
Losing Pogba should rankle United. He was a young player with an enormous talent who was happy at the club. He hasn't cost a lot of money, but had the potential to be worth a fortune both on and off the pitch.
And they let that slip away.
As he develops into one of the world's best players, he should serve as a reminder to the club not to let it happen again. Things would be different at Old Trafford right now if they still had Pogba.
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