COMMENT: We were wrong. Paul Pogba. Manchester United. And comparisons with Paul Gascoigne. We talked a good game. Made a decent case. But we were woefully wrong...
Upon his return to United. After that wonderful night against Southampton. This column celebrated Pogba's arrival - but with a qualifier. He wasn't a box-to-box midfielder, as many at the time were arguing. He wasn't going to win you a 40-60 ball, despite his presence and physique. Instead, Paul Pogba was Gazza. Indeed, rashly, we reasoned United's new No6 would do for Jose Mourinho what Sir Alex Ferguson had banked on Gazza doing for him - before Terry Venables' intervention.
But three years on and it has to be said. This column was wrong. We were wrong to insult Gascoigne with such a comparison. Pogba's no Gazza. He's not even close.
He can't beat a man like the Geordie. He can't pass through the lines. And he'd never do the work off the ball that Gazza did for his teammates. Above all else. Most of all. Pogba will never play for the fans as Gazza did.
Sure the Frenchman will say he does. But saying and doing are two different things. And there's no comparison with what Gazza left on the pitch compared with Pogba. Before anything else, Gazza is a football fan. A football nut. And was one well before he was breaking through at Newcastle United. He knew what those players on the pitch meant to the fans. He knew what he owed to those standing on the terraces. And he played like that.
That's not Pogba. For these three years. Beyond that Saints game. No fair minded United fan could claim a performance where their No6 went beyond the call.
That's not to say he isn't capable. He did it for France. He put the childish things away. The social media. The hair cuts. The 'look at me' attitude. He shut it down for a month to become a vital cog in France's World Cup winning campaign. He wasn't Les Bleus' outstanding player. But he was their outstanding leader. Pogba showed he could do it. Be mature. Be consistent. But only for France.
Not for United. Not for the season ticket holders whom contribute to his wages. Not for the millions of fans around the world who have his name printed on the back of their replica shirts. Oh no, he won't do that. But he'll do it for France. Well, maybe not just for France. He'll do it to become a World Cup winner...
At first flush, United have lost this one. Mino Raiola's bombshell on Friday left everyone - including Ed Woodward - in no doubt. Pogba wants to leave. Just as he said in Tokyo. His agent followed that up a fortnight later with rare comments to an English press man.
"Everyone knows the willingness of Paul to move on," declared Raiola.
“Everyone within the club, from the manager to the owner, knows Paul's wishes."
That transfer demand from Pogba may never come. It doesn't have to now. Both he and Raiola have effectively done it in the public arena. No matter how much leeway United's vice-chairman gave his pet project, Woodward must now realise it's all been for nowt.
It was a short response, but a telling one. Beppe Marotta, now running things at Inter Milan, declared on Friday that Pogba was his best piece of business. The former Juventus GM boasting, “I think my best deal was Pogba at Juve. We picked him up from Manchester United for free and then sold him back to United for €115m."
And we say boasting, not only for the profit made, but Marotta affirming what one long time Juve coach told this column upon Pogba's previous sale. The belief inside the club being this was as good as they'd get from Pogba. That his defensive game would never improve. And the hype and demands from sponsors would only become an increasing distraction.
We mentioned it at the time, but didn't make a song and dance about it. To be honest, this column thought our source was just trying to save face. Especially after that Saints game. Again, we were wrong. Woefully wrong.
And Marotta, with a glint in his eye, was saying as much when discussing his "€115m" profit.
Which is why Woodward, if he can hold his nerve, can help United finish out in front. Pogba wants Real Madrid. Juve have been mentioned. And the Turin press have talked up the prospect. But it's Madrid which is the priority for Pogba and Raiola.
As it is for Real coach Zinedine Zidane. But not so much for Florentino Perez. The president sees trouble on the horizon. He'd prefer Christian Eriksen. The Tottenham man is calm. Unassuming. The ideal long-term successor for Luka Modric.
But Florentino can't overrule Zidane. He made such a promise in that marathon phone call to convince the Frenchman to return. It will be Pogba. Though even Florentino. The man of the Galacticos. Even the president doesn't know what he's buying.
£120m? £150m? For what? What is Florentino getting for a club record signing? A player from a sixth placed team. Inconsistent. A distraction. Nowhere near the Ballon d'Or dais. A myth. You get the picture...
Real will be signing potential. Spending record money on what could be... at 26. A player who's been incapable of performing at a high, consistent level for a month. Let alone season. And barely against any opposition that matters.
Before his appearance on Sunday, United had no word from Pogba whether he'd join the squad in Perth for their first preseason game. There had been no contact between player and club until early Sunday morning.
But despite the radio silence, he had managed to do the important things, had Pogba. To go viral. To play silly social media games with the bottle cap challenge. His effort posted on the same day Raiola's interview was being published in The Times. Seen by millions around the world. All done in NTS gear. A boon for the independent radio group. Oh wait, that is NTS gear designed by adidas - always know where your loyalties are...
Gazza never treated his fans like this.