It was, in truth, not the cleanest of goals. Juventus’ number six spun onto his left foot to strike home the Old Lady’s first in a 4-0 Supercopa victory over Lazio a fortnight ago. Paul Pogba’s opener, struck low past Federico Marchetti, was the latest stepping stone in a career that has reached a new level since a £250,000 move from Manchester United a little over 12 months ago.
United lost a potential world star and the Reds continue to search Europe for a high-quality midfielder to augment David Moyes’ squad.
Indeed, Pogba’s rise is such that is comes as no surprise that Real Madrid enquired about the Lagny-sur-Marne-born midfielder this summer. Juventus director general Giuseppe Marotta rebuffed any talk of Pogba moving on, although the gossip pages put a mooted fee in the £40 million region. The rise from United reserve team to the world stage is almost complete.
Still, if United’s spectacular mishandling of Pogba’s career – the lack of first team appearances and a low-balled contract offer – during three years in Manchester is now an expensive failure, then the club is making a belated move to fill the hole. Indeed, the summer long United has chased the signature of a top class midfielder – to embarrassingly little success.
While an attempt to bring in Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcántara was hugely unrealistic, United has moved on to more obtainable targets in recent days, with the transfer window now closing in hours rather than weeks.
Yet it was with some surprise that the club finally made good on a long-standing interest in Atletic Bilbao’s midfielder Ander Herrera on Friday – the Reds’ failed bid reportedly amounting to €30 million. United will likely have to activate the player’s €36 million contract release clause to bring Herrara to Old Trafford.
The 24-year-old Basque is tidy in possession, and keen in the tackle, marking the former Real Zaragoza player as a hybrid of those already sought by David Moyes this window. Herrera is neither classic playmaker in Alcántara’s mould, nor goalscoring creator à la Fabregas, nor indeed does he possess the physical presence of Mouranne Fellaini.
It is little wonder that United fans cannot discern a transfer strategy amid the myriad bids rejected this summer, with no two players seemingly alike. It is a scatterngun policy that may only bear fruit in the final moments of the window.
Herrera is yet to make his full international debut, making the deal overpriced but a key turning point in the player’s career. Champions League football and a high profile transfer may help Herrera ease his way into a Spain squad that boasts midfield riches including Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva, Sergio Busquets, Santi Cazorla, Isco, and Fàbregas.
Yet, while United continues to blunder around the market Ed Woodward and Moyes may have struck lucky with Herrera, who will not be sold for less than his release clause, but is available nonetheless. United must either increase the bid for the former Spanish under-21 international or pull out defeated by the market once again.
“Our club is different, in that it is based on feeling,” said Bilbao president Josu Urrutia on Friday.
“Our objective is not to make money. We received the offer last night, and we communicated that we do not negotiate for our players. If a player is to leave, first he has to inform us that he wants to go and then his release clause has to be met.”
Those of a more curious bent may ponder the club’s failure pursue a similar strategy of activating Fellaini’s release clause before it expired in mid-July, with the Reds now set to pay more than the £23.5 million stipulated in the Belgian’s contract. While Everton has thus far been intransigent – rejecting joint bids of £28 and £36 million for Fellaini and left-back Leighton Baines – most observers expect a deal for the Belgian to go through before Monday.
Meanwhile, United’s late attempt to capture three central midfielders before the 2 September deadline reportedly includes Roma’s experienced Italian international Daniele Di Rossi, once the subject of significant interest from Manchester City.
Roma might have considered an offer this summer except for being light on numbers following the departures of Erik Lamela, Pablo Osvaldo, and Bojan Krkic, together with Simone Perrotta’s retirement.
However, the 30-year-old was always unlikely to sanction move, having publicly committed both to club and his family in Rome – a fact that supporters with an internet connection and Google translate presumably knew well ahead of Woodward and company. Plus ça change this summer it seems.
More unlikely still is a move for Real Madrid’s Kaká, despite paper talk over the weekend. The Brazilian is finally ready to leave Los Merengues in search of more football in a World Cup year. Former club Milan remain interested in the 31-year-old, although the player’s €10 million per season wages and Madrid’s desire to see a return on the €56 million transfer fee is a significant roadblock. The same is very much true of a mooted, but far-fetched, move to Manchester.
None of the deals are yet sealed of course, leaving Moyes to fall back on Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Anderson for United’s trip to Anfield on Sunday. Not that Brendon Rodgers can boast any greater depth of resources in central midfield.
Moyes may look on developments at White Hart Lane with greater envy though. Friday’s £11 million deal for Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen followed the £8 million acquisition of Étienne Capoue and £17 million Brazilian Paulinho. Add Mousa Dembélé, Gylfi Sigurðsson and Lewis Holtby into the mix and Spurs’ boss Andre Villas-Boas boasts six full international central midfielders at his disposal.
Which leaves fans all the more frustrated that the club was unable to tie Pogba down to a new contract 12 months ago. The Frenchman blamed Sir Alex Ferguson’s refusal to grant the teenager more time in the first team; the Scot attributed cause to Pogba’s agent. Both stories contain an element of truth.
In the meantime Moyes has until 11pm om Monday to fill the void.