The story goes that when Paul Pogba left Manchester United back in 2012, Castilla coach Alberto Toril informed Real Madrid president Florentino Perez that the then 18-year-old could be snapped up for around €100,000.
Bearing in mind that the Frenchman joined Juventus on a free transfer, the money involved was obviously an agent’s fee, but no matter what way one looks at it, it was a price worth paying for one of the most talented teenagers in world football.
However, at the time, Perez wasn’t interested in bargain buys, allegedly telling Toril, “€100,000? Come back to me when he costs €100 million!”
Essentially, signing an unproven, relatively unknown Pogba didn’t conform to Real’s business model – which was based on that of the Disney corporation.
This involved the purchase of personalities that were already an industry in themselves. In that way, Real were, in a way, a ‘Mickey Mouse’ operation in the sense that they were willing to invest heavily in the game’s most colourful characters – no matter the cost.
Madrid were all about huge stars, major draws, colossal commercial deals, massive knock-on promotion sales, mainstream appeal and, above all else, big money.
However, Madrid’s transfer market modus operandi has changed since signing their last ‘Galactico’, James Rodriguez, in 2014, although that is in part due to the fact that they have been unable to attract the high-profile players that they needed to sustain their previous business model, namely Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
The Pogba of today, though, would most definitely fit into Madrid’s previous requirements for a stellar signing.
The 25-year-old is one of the most marketable players in world football, a true social media phenomenon, a larger-than-life personality.
And that is partly why he is once again on the verge of leaving Old Trafford.
While at Juventus Paul Pogba didn’t quite fulfil his potential, but he got extremely close. To be at his best, Pogba needs to be afforded a certain level of freedom, and Juventus were happy to accommodate him in that regard.
However, now a part of the stringent, exigent regime of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, he is now subject to the Portuguese’s many tactical demands.
Unsurprisingly, Pogba has not always reacted well to such positional constraints.
However, the root cause of their relationship breakdown is the ‘carrot and stick’ approach to man-management employed by Mourinho with the aim of getting the most out of his players.
Mourinho really couldn’t care less how he is perceived by his players so long as they carry out his orders and deliver the desired results on the field. For the two-time Champions League winner, the end has always justified the means.
That philosophy worked well for Mourinho in the past but not anymore, not at Old Trafford. The game has moved on; players have changed, with Pogba the perfect case in point.
He is now a World Cup final winner, an industry in himself, a label, a brand, and certainly not the sort of person to be intimidated into thinking he should be subservient to his manager.
I feel that in Pogba’s mind, he and Mourinho are equals, and that is the reason for the current acrimony between the two men.
The midfielder’s extremely pro-active agent, Mino Raiola, has for the past 12 months has been doing everything he can to secure his client a move away from Manchester. There is no question that Pogba, now in his third season back in England, has decided that he has had enough of Mourinho and wants out.
Ed Woodward has publicly expressed his support for Mourinho in his ongoing battle with Pogba but, privately, he is telling anyone who will listen that the Frenchman is going nowhere.
All the while, Raiola continually bangs the drum for his client, insisting that top clubs want Pogba, namely Juventus and Barcelona.
Juventus are financially stretched at the moment because of the deal that brought Cristiano Ronaldo to Turin, while Barcelona insist that they have had no contact with either United or Pogba.
But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – if he did happen to be available, they would of course be interested in a player of his quality.
However, would Pogba actually be a good signing for Barcelona?
In spite of the tiki-taka style that made them famous, the Blaugrana have employed players of a similar ilk in the past, with Yaya Toure, Seydou Keita and Paulinho all enjoying relatively successful stints at Camp Nou.
However, not one became a Barca superstar and Arturo Vidal’s current struggles in Catalunya have only served to underline the suspicion that players of Pogba’s power and physicality are ill-suited to the club’s philosophy.
Pogba has made no secret of his desire to play with Lionel Messi but if he was to actually find himself in the same side as the Argentine attacker, he would need to alter his game.
He would have to play with far more discipline, both with the ball and without it.
However, as we saw during the World Cup in Russia, Pogba is capable of adapting and he would be more than willing to do so at Barcelona primarily what he wants is to enjoy his football again; which is clearly not happening at the moment.
Pogba looks and sounds miserably at Mourinho’s United and the most worrying thing for the Portuguese is that when the midfielder expresses his frustration, I think he’s speaking on behalf of the vast majority of the Old Trafford dressing room.
Last time he spoke – or rather didn’t speak – to the press was after the Champions League draw with Valencia and all he said was that he couldn’t say anything.
As a result, it seems unlikely we will be hearing anything from him for a while. But watch this space, because this soap opera has still got a long way to run.
At the moment, it doesn’t look like Pogba will be happy again until he secures his switch to Barcelona.