Paul Pogba's downfall a terrible end for the ultimate modern footballer | OneFootball

Paul Pogba's downfall a terrible end for the ultimate modern footballer | OneFootball

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OneFootball

Alex Mott·29 February 2024

Paul Pogba's downfall a terrible end for the ultimate modern footballer

Article image:Paul Pogba's downfall a terrible end for the ultimate modern footballer

"You see this player, he will be extraordinary, full of talent. He will be at the top.

"But he's a dreamer and if nobody is there to show him his way, he'll never make it."


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That was Sir Alex Ferguson's view of Paul Pogba back in 2011 when the rangy French youngster was only 17.

The legendary former Manchester United boss was speaking to French radio station RMC when he made those comments, and proved to be prophetic in his assessment of the talented but flawed teenager.

In a career that's been filled with the highest highs, now at the age of 30, Pogba is heading for his lowest low.

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Thursday saw Pogba reach that nadir as the France international was banned from all footballing activities for four years following a positive doping test back in August 2023.

The banned substance DHEA was shown to be in Pogba's bloodstream - a hormone which creates testosterone - following Juventus' win over Udinese on the 20th of that month.

Italy's anti-doping agency (NADO) pushed for a four year ban, and when Pogba asked for a counter-analysis that also returned a positive test, a court case was dated for December following his refusal to take a plea bargain.

After a two month hearing, that case was officially tried on Thursday with confirmation that the Juventus star will be given the maximum possible ban, back-dated from his initial positive test last year.

It means that Pogba will be banned until August 2027, at which point the World Cup winner will be 34-years-old.

It's likely a sorry end to a career that was always imbued with a sense of 'what if?'

Despite playing for two of the biggest clubs in Europe, as well as winning the game's ultimate prize at international level, questions about Pogba's quality and consistency were never too far away.

Former Liverpool captain and manager Graeme Souness was a loud critic of the midfielder, lambasting Pogba at regular intervals during the Frenchman's time at Manchester United.

And although that particular gripe veered into parody at times, Pogba's second spell at Old Trafford was equal parts frustrating and glorious.

The frustration was borne out of the fact that he could be so brilliant, so unique, so technically stunning, yet so often he was none of those things.

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Having spent four years away from England with Juve, Pogba returned in 2016, with United paying a then world record fee of €105m.

With the infamous #Pogback hashtag trending worldwide following the announcement, it was clear then that marketing had trumped everything else at United during former CEO Ed Woodward's 'last days of Rome' phase.

Pogba's return was emblematic of a club trading on past glories and seemingly rudderless.

Despite a patchy first couple of years, the Frenchman returned from the 2018 World Cup as a champion and produced the best individual season of his career.

Under José Mourinho's - and then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's - guidance, Pogba finished that 2018/19 campaign with 13 Premier League goals and ended as the club's top scorer.

It looked at times, during that topsy-turvy term, as if United were a one-man team with Pogba the almost perfect mix of balletic poise, tactical smarts and raw, unfettered athleticism.

That should have been the catalyst for a new, mature Pogba, one that could take this young and willing United side and help mould them into potential title contenders.

But through a mix of bad managerial appointments and a general sense of stasis on the pitch, Pogba's form dipped and he was eventually allowed to leave on a free transfer in 2022.

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It was an ignominious end to an ultimately poor six years in the Premier League but a second return - this time to Juventus - had a narrative that was almost too perfect to ignore.

Having played some of his best ever football with the Bianconeri could Pogba, with six more years of experience, rediscover that magic?

In short: no.

Pogba played just eight times in 18 months thanks to a succession of niggling injuries, and then came that positive test in August last year.

Juventus carried on regardless and now sit in second place in Serie A. On the outside at least, they don't seem to have missed Pogba's particular brand of midfield craft.

But what happens next is still to be decided.

Pogba released a statement on Thursday, following confirmation of his ban, insisting he was "shocked and heartbroken" and would be appealing the decision through the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

That is a lengthy legal process though, and could take a year or more to be finalised.

In the meantime, the options open to Juve are fairly straightforward.

The Italian giants can either stick with their man through his next legal challenge or they can officially terminate Pogba's contract due to his ban being more than six months in length.

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According to a Calcio i Finanzia however, it is likely that they will wait until June 2024 to make that decision.

That's so Juve can avoid paying a penalty fee for the financial aid they obtained in 2022 when the French midfielder returned to Turin.

Juve saved 50 per cent of Pogba's gross salary thanks to the Italian Government's Growth Decree, which was a financial incentive to allow Serie A clubs to sign some of the world's best players.

That legislation has now been scrapped but the Old Lady would have to pay a fine should they terminate his contract now.

The statute of limitations on that expires after two years however, meaning it makes sense for the Turin outfit to wait until the summer to make a call on Pogba's contract.

That means though, four more months of waiting for Pogba. Four more months until we find out just how right Sir Alex Ferguson truly was.