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The Great Red Debate: Should Manchester United break the world transfer record to sign Paul Pogba?

In this week’s Great Red Debate, Busby Babe writers Ryan Baldi and Jack Sargeant discuss whether Manchester United should break the world transfer record to re-sign Paul Pogba from Juventus.

UC Sampdoria v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Ryan: In the four years that have passed since Paul Pogba was allowed to Leave Manchester United on a Bosman free transfer, the French midfielder has developed into one of the superstars of the world game.

Four successive Serie A titles and a Champions League final with Juventus: Pogba has been key to them all since swapping Manchester for Turin.

Back in 2012, then-United boss Sir Alex Ferguson famously fell out with Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola, as negotiations over a contract renewal for the teenage midfield starlet broke down.

Chelsea v Manchester United - FA Youth Cup Semi Final 1st Leg Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

As Pogba’s deal expired, the flamboyant youngster moved to Juventus, and United lost one of the brightest talents to have emerged from their youth academy in recent years.

Pogba quickly demonstrated how his unique blend of supreme athleticism and individual skill mark him out as one of the most valuable players in the game.

Ever since Pogba’s departure, United are believed to have been interested in someday manufacturing a return for the 23-year-old, but the negative perception of paying an enormous sum to bring back a player they allowed to leave for free, is thought to have been seen as prohibitive to any move.

Until now, that is. New manager José Mourinho has apparently identified Pogba as the man to build his new-look United side around, and reports in the European media last week suggest that the Portuguese has convinced executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to do whatever it takes to re-sign the former Red Devil.

Juventus are reluctant to part ways with their star man, so, reportedly, a bid of around €120 million — a fee that would break the current world transfer record — would be required to wrestle Pogba away from the Bianconeri.

My question to you this week, Jack, is: should United do whatever it takes to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford? Or would that money be better spent elsewhere?

Jack: I can fully understand the reticence of many United fans to see so much money be splashed on a player who: A) once walked out of Old Trafford on a free transfer, B) has so far failed to show his best at a major tournament in which he was supposed to dominate, and C) would cost not too much less than three Julian Draxlers or a couple of James Rodríguezes. I think the anti-Pogba backlash is understandable, but a little stubborn all the same.

I would reply to the three objections with the following: A) the old adage that two wrongs don’t make a right seems quite apt: United’s cock-ups in the past shouldn’t be allowed to dictate our transfer policy in the present, B) expectations were raised to an impossibly high level ahead of Euro 2016, to the extent that almost nothing was going to be good enough to appease the objectors, and C) the needs of the United team should be of paramount importance when evaluating a transfer rumour, and we arguably need a Draxler or a Rodríguez less than we do a Pogba.

There’s also a slightly bizarre tendency for supporters to treat the club’s money as their own, and recoil in horror when they see such sums as €120 million quoted in the press. But as far as I’m concerned, if United have that kind of money to splash, then they should very well go ahead and do so; and Pogba would be as good a signing to make as any.

As those who have watched Juventus with any regularity over the last few seasons would know, Pogba is capable of utterly dominating games, marauding from box to box to offer a last-ditch tackle as well as a handy few goals. With United having been so weak in midfield for so long, I have no doubt Pogba would be a fantastic addition in sporting terms, and bearing in mind he’s only 23 years old, he has the potential to feature regularly for the next decade. Taking all of that into account, I don’t think it’s as ridiculous a sum as some would have you believe.

Ryan: Yep, we’re definitely on the same page with this one. And a further point to those arguing that James Rodríguez would be a more astute purchase: as talented a player as he is, Rodríguez has figured sporadically for Real Madrid in recent months and is a player who has serious questions over his attitude — I’m not sure that United should be so willing to splash out huge sums on a player who has been out of form for some time, and who the selling club would not be too disappointed to lose, regardless of his talent and marketing potential.

Pogba is the polar opposite of that: Juventus absolutely do not want to sell, and in addition, Real Madrid are also very interested in acquiring his services.

The Manchester Evening News reported last week that Mourinho wants to make the kind of marquee signing that will "make everybody sit up straight," and bringing Pogba back — especially for a world record fee — would absolutely do that.

My one reservation is that if Madrid decide to stump up the money, they’ll get him. The latest murmurings from the Spanish press suggest that Los Blancos are not willing to pay the kind of money it would take to get Pogba out of Turin, but one major sale — i.e. Rodríguez -- and a couple of headline grabbing performances at Euro 2016 from Pogba, could soon see their stance changed.

How do you reconcile the feeling that, if the player is to move this summer, Madrid will have him if they really want him, with the notion that pulling off a swoop for Pogba would get United back on the map, so to speak, in terms of the European Elite? Should United go all out for Pogba and risk being burnt? Or should Ed Woodward be pumping the brakes slightly, letting events play out a little more while keeping a few irons in other fires?

France v Republic of Ireland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Jack: I think Woodward has ended up with an eggy face on a couple of previous occasions partly because of United’s very public pursuit of big stars. Quite why United used this approach I’m still not sure — perhaps Woodward was a little naïve and believed that United have the power to bully other big clubs, when in actual fact we didn’t, and certainly don’t now.

I don’t think there’s any reason to be absolutely desperate to sign Pogba, nor would being so give us a particularly strong appeal or any great leverage in transfer and contract negotiations. Playing it cool is probably no bad strategy. Of course, it’s also always good to have contingency plans — though, admittedly, there is probably no one on the planet quite as good as Pogba at what he does.

Finally, I think there’s no real shame in missing out on a player to Real Madrid. From the appointment of José Mourinho to the apparently imminent signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan — who, we hope and expect will not be the last familiar face to arrive at Old Trafford this summer — everything still suggests that United are very much a desirable club, capable of making a swift move back towards the top of the Premier League. If we go in for Pogba and he opts to head for Spain instead, I think it will be because of the attractiveness of Madrid more than any unattractiveness of United.

Ryan: Agreed. My feeling is still that it probably won’t happen, but that’s likely just the inherent pessimism of a fan whose been burnt by similar drawn-out transfer sagas in the past. This one hasn’t reached Arturo Vidal or Wesley Sneijder levels just yet, but it certainly has the potential to.

I am, however, encouraged by the fact that United seem to be genuinely in with a chance of landing the most sought-after elite player of the summer. Signs that the lure of Mourinho and his project, backed by the club’s finiancial might, could have us back on the right track sooner rather than later.

Jack: Yep, I agree. It seems that was one of the major benefits of hiring Mourinho: above and beyond what he offers as a tactician and coach, perhaps only Pep Guardiola can match him for charisma and pulling power. Though United haven’t enjoyed all that much success over the last few seasons, Mourinho is an undisputed winner, and financial draws aside, there can be little more appealing to the world’s best footballers than that. Whether or not Pogba eventually ends up arriving at Old Trafford, United appear to be back among the big boys.