One of the fascinating aspects of Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United has been the fact that the Frenchman is returning to the side that he left in 2012. At the time, Pogba was 19 years old, and believed he was ready to play regular first team football, and a famous afternoon in December 2011, where Sir Alex Ferguson chose Rafael, a right back over him in midfield in the midst of an injury crisis to play Blackburn Rovers had convinced him that such a desire wouldn’t be met at Old Trafford.
Of course, plenty has changed in those four years; Ferguson has retired, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal have tried and failed to re-establish United atop the Premier League, and Jose Mourinho is now in charge. Pogba himself was asked by Thierry Henry for an interview with Sky Sports what his feelings for Ferguson were, and offered a delicate, warm response:
“Big respect, the greatest manager in football. I don’t have any problems with him and I never had any. The only problem maybe I had was I wanted to play. Maybe for him it was too early. For me it was too late, I was ready, and that’s it.
“I learnt a lot with him too. I will always respect him and I hope to meet him again.”
Mourinho himself has revealed that he sought Ferguson’s perspective when it came to Pogba’s potential return, and, as per the below quotes from the Manchester Evening News, was equally diplomatic and gentle when the subject was brought up:
“We exchanged a few ideas about it. I know the club did everything, Sir Alex did everything (in 2012).
“If you lose a player, it doesn’t mean if you get a chance to recover him, you don’t recover him. Chelsea did the same mistake with Matic. And a few years later, I pushed the club to do the deal. We did one mistake, why would we want to make the same mistake? So Paul is back and I think really happy to be back.”
One question on plenty of United fans’ minds is what would have happened if Pogba had stayed at the club instead of departing for the Bianconeri in 2012. Mourinho, however, believes that his time in Serie A has been hugely beneficial:
“Who knows? If he stays here and signed a new contract that I know Sir Alex tried everything to give him, a new contract, I think the natural evolution of things would be in him becoming the player he is now. The reality is he left.
“He went to a completely different football country, a different philosophy probably, and the experience was magnificent for him in preparing him to be the player he is. Who knows? I always think when they are top players, it doesn’t matter where, or when. The truth always comes.”
It’s nice to see both Pogba and Mourinho approach such a potentially difficult topic with a gentle approach, and resist criticising Ferguson. Indeed, it’s a sign of the Frenchman’s maturity that the Scotsman’s presence at isn’t even an issue for him.