Paul Pogba in 2012. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last year, on August 8, Paul Pogba completed his transfer from Juventus back to Manchester United. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Pogba helped lead Manchester United to a tenth Youth Cup victory over Sheffield United. In the 2011 season, Pogba appeared just three times for the senior team. Ferguson wanted Pogba to renew for a year and continue to grow at United. The young midfielder, though, became disappointed in the lack of first-team opportunity. As a result, Pogba did not renew his contract and moved to Juventus in 2012.

While at Juventus, Pogba flourished. He soon became one of the most sought after midfielders in the world. The 2013 U-20 World Cup Player of the Year won eight trophies for Juventus. This included winning Serie A every year that he played in Italy. In addition, he won two Coppa Italia cups and two Supercoppa Italiana trophies. Notably, he started for Juventus’s 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in the UEFA Champion’s League 2015 final. FIFA even named him Best Young Player of the Year in the 2014 World Cup.

When Pogba moved to Old Trafford for the second time at the start of this season, the world was watching. The transfer fee: £89.3 million. This broke Gareth Bale’s price of £85.1 million. Current Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward believed that Paul Pogba would be worth the fee. Now, only three league matches remain. United have the second leg of the Europa League semifinal to play against Celta Vigo. They may even see the final in Stockholm.  Barring a spectacular contribution, it is now safe to being judgement. Was Paul Pogba worth it?

Season Statistics

Since his second Premier League debut at Old Trafford against Southampton, Paul Pogba has made 48 appearances in all competitions. Of those, 29 have been in the Premier League. In that amount of time, he accumulated the most passes of any midfielder in the league. Specifically, that is 2,139 total passes, with 85% pass accuracy.  In the Europa League, he appeared 13 times, recording 969 passes with 84% accuracy.

Image credit: @paulpogba

His assists, however, do not correspond to his high passing tally. In all competitions, Pogba made five assists. Three came from league play, one in the Europa League, and one in the FA Cup against Blackburn. As far as the league is concerned, he ranks in 55th place for most assists in the Premier League. This is in a 34-way tie with players such as Juan Mata, Tom Davies, and Olivier Giroud. His one UEFA assist was against Zorya Luhansk in the group stage.

Focusing on his midfield role, Pogba made 42 total interceptions in the Premier League. He attempted 113 tackles, but was only successful for 40 (35.4%). However, he had a 66% successful take on rating. Pogba won 58% of his aerial duels as well, and 53% of all duels. Additionally, he committed 59 fouls and suffered 69 himself. He attempted 107 dribbles, 71 of which were successful.

In all competitions, Paul Pogba scored just seven goals. He scored four in the Premier League, two in the Europa League (same match), and one in the EFL Cup. His league shot accuracy is 41%, and he took 90 shots total. He ranks behind Kevin De Bruyne for most woodwork hits, with six. He also missed five big chances in the league this season.

Paul Pogba: Price Per Performance

Manchester United paid £89.3 million for Pogba. Using the above values, here is how much Woodward and Co. paid per statistic:

  • £1.9 million per appearance
  • £47,100 per pass in the Premier League
  • £17.9 million per assist
  • Another £17.9 million per big chance missed
  • £12.8 million per goal
  • £2.4 million per shot on target, in addition to £1.7 million per shot off target
  • £14.9 million for each hit of the woodwork
  • £2.2 million per successful tackle in the league
  • £1.5 million for each foul Pogba committed

Of course, one cannot judge a player as above. Such numbers would be true if Pogba walked onto the field and did just one of those things. However, holistically, his value for his contribution looks much less… expensive. Nevertheless, record setting price is tough to forget.

 The Money Issue

Let’s get down to brass tax. For me, Paul Pogba is NOT worth £89.3 million. This is not as much because I feel like he let us down. Nor is it that he did particularly poorly this season. The reason that he is not worth that fee is because of what it made Manchester United.

There are selling clubs, like Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund. Then there are buying clubs, like Manchester City, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. Under Ferguson, Manchester United brought in good players, but often for the academy. Those who played on the first team rarely were in their prime before coming to United. Players who came to Old Trafford came to wear the badge, not to live in a posh Manchester mansion.  Splashing cash on players like Falcao, Di Maria, and now Pogba is a big problem. It has led to a number of players on our squad to be concerned with money before Manchester.

Paul Pogba left United, upset that he did not get enough opportunity to play. He was a star for Juventus, starting every big game. You cannot tell me he did not come for money. He said it was “the right time for a move to Old Trafford” this summer. I do not believe he said this because he missed playing for us.

Here is a current example. Antoine Griezmann has reportedly agreed to personal terms for a £280,000 per week Old Trafford move. That is ridiculous money, not to mention the buyout clause of £89 million and £81 million in bonuses. Yet Griezmann has “reservations” over United, as Champion’s League is yet to be secure. He does not want to play FOR United, he wants to play WITH us. Pogba’s transfer fee was climax in the transition to making United a buying club.

The Hype of the Walking £89 Million Haircut

Before almost every game, Manchester Untied’s Instagram would feature Paul Pogba. It felt like Jurassic Park to me. “Pogba! We’ve got Pogba here!” See, nobody cared. Missing chances or hitting the woodwork were not Pogba’s biggest issue – Ibrahimovic was guilty of worse. It was his hype. Here comes the most expensive midfielder – no, player – in the world. And he cannot even score or get an assist. However, you better believe his haircut will be trending on Twitter. He even got an emoji!

Ugh. Image credit: @paulpogba

When I watched him feature in Manchester United’s narrow 1-0 victories or boring draws, I became consistently frustrated. He loved to run into the box with the ball, which was good. However, this effort resulted in a mugging when his dribbling failed. “Pass, you fool!” I would shout.

But he was passing, though. The entire time. And I ignored it, expecting each play that he created to send the ball into the net. My expectations grew too high because of the fee and the Pogba promotions that ran rampant. However, he often did not play as poorly as I thought, looking back.

It was that darned transfer fee and the commercialization of this young man that blurred my judgement of him. There is so much money in football, leading to inflated prices for players. I do not think Pogba, or anyone, is worth that much. However, someone will break Pogba’s record-setting fee soon. Then, everyone will judge that player as well. Pogba’s transfer happened, and while it was for too much, he did well enough to grant a second chance. Looking back, I am glad that Pogba calls Old Trafford home again.

Paul Pogba in the Future

Overall, Pogba’s contribution this season has been acceptable. Certainly, it has not been outstanding. However, not all of that is because of Pogba. If United had converted even half of their missed chances, they would likely be title contenders right now. Here is a nice video example showing some of Pogba’s assists. However, more often, you will see fantastic passes just before a teammate absolutely ruins the good opportunity. Thank KaiiZoFilms for the compilation!

I refuse to ignore Pogba’s passing contribution. While I wish he passed even more rather than trying to dribble five defenders, he has been prolific. Honestly, if he tried to use skills a bit less, I would defend him even more readily. As he continues to grow, he will become a vital player for United. That is if he stays, however. I do think that if Manchester United’s attack and finishing improves, he will lead the league in assists. That may not happen for a while, but no one can doubt that he has what it takes.

Before the first Europa League quarterfinal leg, Pogba spoke to reporters for the first time since signing. I really think he says it best here.

“I think people are looking at me and judging me for not scoring goals, but that’s football. They want me to score goals because of the mountain of the transfer. My job is to be a midfielder, to make assists.”

Pogba did not achieve the payoff that fans hoped for at the beginning of the season. Every player has bad games, and Pogba has been invisible a few times. More often than not, though, he is  present on the field. As he continues to fit in, I am confident that he will start making the difference that everyone expected.