In case any of us had forgotten during the pause in the football calendar, Paul Pogba undoubtedly remains one of the most talented midfielders in the world.
If we did need a reminder, the World Cup winner dished one out in devastating fashion on Friday evening, coming on to revive a flatlining Manchester United team and almost turning zero points into three in the space of 30 minutes.
It was astonishing, but also not surprising in the least, that a really good footballer can help ten other decent players look far better than their individual capabilities. Pogba, along with fellow midfielder Bruno Fernandes, were head and shoulders above everyone else on that Red Devils’ side – and streets ahead of the majority of the Tottenham lineup, too.
The midfielder provided an injection of creativity, drive and ingenuity to United’s play, and his grace and confidence oozed all over the pitch, dousing his teammates in some much needed belief. All in all, his display begged the question: How is Pogba not starting for this team?
Fitness issues, a lack of match practice and a team performing decently before the break will be cited as reasons behind his absence from the beginning. But given that no one has kicked a ball in 100 days, match fitness and form should be irrelevant. So really, there are very few excuses to justify his exclusion from this slightly above average (and that’s being kind) United team.
Time for a move then? Well, unless Pogba plans on spending the rest of his career twiddling his thumbs and waiting for a revolution that will never arrive, an escape route might be his best alternative. And in terms of back-door boogying, the Frenchman may already have a neat underground tunnel dug all the way to Turin.
One man’s loss is another man’s gain, and in Pogba, Juventus might be gaining the missing piece to their jigsaw. Admittedly, the midfielder was once an exciting cog in the ruthless machine of the early 2010s, but he was deemed dispensable as I Bianconeri went through a daring rebuild.
Unfortunately, a midfield which once contained the Frenchman in question, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal now pales in comparison, boasting a cluster of sluggish, ageing and permanently out of form misfits.
Juve have deviated from their usual formula when raiding the transfer market in recent years, making opportunistic, bargain signings which look great on paper, rather than actually addressing the needs of their declining squad.
And the chickens are coming home to roost. To be trophy-less at this stage of the season is unthinkable for I Bianconeri, and the thought of missing out on the scudetto – a fate they haven’t suffered for over eight years – could spell the end of Maurizio Sarri’s bold new era.
Fail, and it could all fall apart. But unlike many projects, it would not take too much effort and spending to put back together. From back to front, this team is littered with talent, and the star-studded names simply roll off the tongue.
And then there’s Cristiano Ronaldo, obviously.
But while defensively and offensively this team is able to compete with the very best in Europe, it’s somewhere in the middle that it all melts away. Miralem Pjanic. Aaron Ramsey. Blaise Matuidi. Rodrigo Bentacur. Sami Khedira. Adrien Rabiot.
This list hardly inspires hope among supporters, nor strikes fear into the heart of any opponent. The powerful, commanding Juventus of old, which could squeeze and suffocate teams to death, is facing doubts over its own mortality.
It’s predictable, it’s pedestrian, and it’s pretty painful.
Among all of those names barring the impressive but developing Bentancur, there is no one who can hurtle forward with the ball, grab a game by the scruff of its neck, or change an outcome with a moment of sheer individual brilliance. There’s no X-factor.
This is a Juve team which is crying out for some drive, some creativity from the centre of the pitch, and some ingenuity. Where have we heard those words before? Yep, Pogba is the perfect fit. He’s no longer the young, shiny jewel in the crown, he is the crown. He is the backbone. The real deal.
Alongside the industrious and relentless Bentancur, and flanked by the tireless Matuidi (or even by another fresh face, like Sandro Tonali), the United man would be offered the perfect conditions to thrive and dominate games – and, more importantly, help restore the Old Lady to her former glorious self.
He truly is that good. He can do the lot. Surrounded by top-quality players, he will be given the platform required to achieve what he set out to do in Manchester: win titles, and lift the Champions League.
Now in his prime, there is little margin for error if he hopes to add some domestic trophies to his international glory, and every year spent at Old Trafford is proving to be another 12 months of frustration, accusations and disrespect from all directions.
And should the Red Devils miss out on Champions League qualification for the 2020/21 season, then Pogba’s decision may become far easier to make.
This is all just speculation, of course.
But there is cause for concern for those United supporters who hope to see their star midfielder in the red jersey beyond this season. 90min has learnt that Juve have made Pogba their ‘main priority’ for the summer window, and they’ve made it clear to his representatives that they’re keen to join forces once again.
So it’s not just rumours and wishful thinking, after all.
Sadly for United fans, while Pogba is still at the club, these murmurs of disappointment and discontent may never disappear. The Red Devils must do everything in their power to tie down their talisman to a long-term contract and build a team capable of competing at the very top of the Premier League.
But until they do, the Old Lady will be lying in wait, ready to welcome back their prodigal son with open arms. Reunited, Juventus and Pogba could be unstoppable.