Flipping through FourFourTwo’s Top 100 Players list, I kept thinking about Manchester United’s midfield. The list is pretty much a catalogue of players United should have signed or shouldn’t have sold. It was hard not to notice that Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini hadn’t made the cut. And that Michael Carrick languished in the mid-70s. And that in 64th place, making his first appearance on the annual list, was Paul Pogba.
Here’s the thing about Pogba: People knew he was going to be good. It’s not as if he flopped, Zoran Tosic-style; left Old Trafford; and then suddenly turned into the best midfielder in Serie A. United sold Pogba because he had started to believe his own hype, or at least his agent had, and Alex Ferguson wouldn’t meet his salary demands. Unlike Ravel Morrison, who has played brilliantly for West Ham this season, Pogba wasn’t lazy, or volatile, or even an alleged sex offender. He just happened to consider himself the next Patrick Vieira. Pogba signed for Juventus about a year and a half ago and has since proved that a) he may well be better than Vieira; and b) Ferguson shouldn’t have been so stingy.
Earlier this summer, David Moyes spent more than 20 million pounds on Fellaini, and while I don’t know exactly how much money Pogba asked for, I’m willing to bet that Fellaini’s transfer fee would have covered it. Maybe with Pogba in the squad United wouldn’t have signed Fellaini. Maybe then Moyes would have spent deadline day doing something genuinely productive like, I don’t know, playing keepie uppie with Albert the kit man or raiding Anderson’s pastry cupboard
Many pundits have blamed Moyes for United’s midfield problems, partly because he’s an easy target and partly because no one forced him to sign Fellaini. But if we accept the notion that Ferguson handpicked Moyes and has orchestrated this grand “changing of the guard” from on high, doesn’t he share blame for United’s disastrous start to the season? Ferguson guided arguably the worst United side in 20 years to the Premier League title, but he didn’t deal with the underlying weaknesses exposed by the team’s Champions League failures in 2012 and 2013. He left Old Trafford right before the inevitable implosion of an aging squad that had limped to two titles in a diminished league. He bought van Persie but missed out on Silva, Ozil, Sneijder and Yaya Toure. He agreed to sign Serbian teenager Adam Ljajic (96th, but likely to rise next season), and then changed his mind at the last minute.