When Paul Pogba left Manchester United, most fans had a feeling it could be a decision which would grow to haunt the club.
Two years later and Pogba is widely considered one of the best young midfielders in the world. He has grown to become exactly the midfielder which United will have to pay big money for in the summer. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of United fans.
Yet, fans understood why Pogba left. Was it for money? Financial incentives would certainly have played a role in his move to Juventus but Sir Alex Ferguson simply couldn’t offer Pogba the guarantees of first-team football he wanted.
Tony Park, author of Sons of United, has previously explained the Pogba situation in detail and here is an extract from his analysis which summarised the full context and story:
“So either he [Pogba] or his agent was asking for ‘guarantees’ that were not forthcoming – understandably – and Ferguson was reluctant to give someone a start in an important league game whose form didn’t merit it. In addition, breaking wage and pay structures causes all sorts of problems throughout the club.
“Some people have also mentioned that Pogba was upset that Scholes returning put him further back in the queue. When Tom Cleverley was asked about Scholes return…he said he was ‘delighted because he had the opportunity of learning from him…’
“An interesting difference in attitude compared to that of Pogba. Fundamentally he left because he/his agent were impatient and wanted to dictate terms to the club.
“Other more famous players have tried that in the past and got nowhere.
“Finally, imagine if the club tripled his wages (or whatever) and guaranteed him 30 starts. Then his form dipped…or he didn’t progress the way everyone had hoped. Playing in the English league is a million miles away from Italian football. What do we do then? His contract would say we HAD to play him. What a ludicrous situation.”
As Tony pointed out, no 18-year-old midfielder was ever going to get guarantees of first-team football at Manchester United which is why his exit was almost inevitable. Fast forward two years and the club finds itself in all too familiar situation with Andreas Pereira locked in stalled negotiations over a new contract.
Yet, as much as there are similarities, there are also important differences. The self-confident Pogba had every right to be frustrated at seeing Rafael and Park Ji-Sung starting ahead of him in a League Cup game but does Pereira really have grounds to be frustrated?
Pereira has put in some strong U21s performances this season but equally so he has not done what Adnan Januzaj or James Wilson did before their full breakthrough into the first-team where they stood head and shoulders above all other players at U21s level on a consistent basis. His good games are sandwiched in between those where it passes him by so it would be an unnecessary risk to drop him into the cauldron that is the Premier League right now.
As for being frustrated, you only have to take a look at Pereira 12 months to see the progress he has made. Under Louis van Gaal, Pereira has made his senior debut for the club, trained with the first-team all year long and been included in multiple matchday squads. Last year under David Moyes, he was simply plying his trade with the U21s so he has enjoyed a fine year of progression. Is that not enough progress for a player who only turned 19 in January?
Also, the likes of Juan Mata and Ander Herrera can’t even regularly get a spot in the team. Pereira wants to play in a position where United are saturated with options and coming into the tail end of the season and FA Cup which he desperately wants to win, is he really going to choose a 19-year-old ahead of his other established options?
Van Gaal has shown this year that he is not afraid to give youth an opportunity but only when the time is right. He won’t be coerced by stalled contract negotiations and demands of guarantees from Pereira’s representatives about his first-team prospects next season.
If Pereira wants guarantees from Man United, he won’t be given them. If he wants to stay and prove to van Gaal he deserves a place, he will get first-team opportunities but if Pereira’s short term vision is that he needs more chances right away, there is every chance he could leave the club this summer.
Guarantees don’t exist in football. One day you could be the talk of the town, the next day you could be in hospital having emergency surgery on a broken leg. That’s the nature of the game. At a club like United, no player’s future is guaranteed. Pereira is a 19-year-old with a hunger to play regular football but if he isn’t willing to work his way into the squad when it suits United rather than when it suits him, his future at the club looks bleak.