Manchester City’s pursuit of Paul Pogba, you would think, has begun, after Mirror reported on Saturday that the Etihad officials have held talks with Juventus, and are willing to meet the £70.92m transfer fee for the 22-year old box-to-box midfielder.
City’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, is also reported to have spoken with the player’s agent, Mino Raiola, who wants a 10% commission of his client’s transfer fee. Also, if the Frenchman makes the switch from Juventus Stadium, he will be paid a colossal £240,000/week basic wages along with bonuses. The 2013/14 English Champions, however, have yet to make a bid for the player, as they are awaiting on an approval from the former Red Devil, before going ahead and making that all-important first bid.
The addition of Pogba to the existent City squad would not only elevate the club’s status but also give them the edge in the UEFA Champions League, a competition in which they yearn to go toe-to-toe with the major European outfits and soon be fighting for that prestigious crown.
Now, talking about Pogba’s transfer fee, the former United man will be the fifth most expensive player of all time if he completes the move to the Etihad stadium. Less than a year ago, Manchester United and Louis van Gaal brought in Angel Di Maria, a Champions League winner with Real Madrid in the season before. They paid a whopping £59.7m to secure the Argentine, who, however, did not enjoy a good first season, and his poor performances led to speculation that he may soon be on the move to Paris St. Germain.
From City’s point of view, should they fear the worst with Pogba’s signing? £70.92m is a lot of money, but will they not regret spending so much, only months after UEFA lifted the Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions that were imposed on them last season? And, finally, does the Frenchman have the stuff of a 70 million-pound signing?
Read on… as we analyse these two World-class players and how the would-be City man is different from United’s Di Maria.
Paul Pogba v Angel di Maria
Starting with Di Maria, he thrives on his direct style of play: taking defenders on; attempting shots from long range; consistently crossing the ball from the flanks when playing as a winger and, importantly, comes up with an end-product more often than not. With Pogba, you have a midfielder, who is strongly built and attack-minded: he, like the Argentine, likes to run at people and, more so than the former Los Blancos’ player, is lethal when it comes to striking the ball.
To put their styles of play into perspective, we shall have a look at their stats from the last two seasons. Both of them were injured for large chunks of last season, which didn’t allow them to play freely and to their full potential. The United midfielder missed 11 league games last season, and it was after suffering a hamstring injury in November, that his form waned away and he couldn’t recover it before the end of the season. The Argentine created 31 chances in his first 11 games for his new club, averaging just shy of 3 chances/game; however, after returning to action in the New Year, he created only 20 chances in 15 league games, though we need to acknowledge that van Gaal didn’t start him in many games towards the end of the season. The Juventus man, on the other hand, missed 12 league and 3 Champions League games, managing a mere two goals and two assists in his final 9 games, as compared to 8 goals and 5 assists in 32 previous games in the season.
Di Maria enjoyed a dream last season for Real, as he registered a whopping 22 assists across the Spanish La Liga and Champions League, while scoring 7 goals, as well, in both the competitions. United have lacked speed in their build-up play over the last couple of seasons, and Di Maria’s arrival from Madrid was expected to significantly quicken the pace at which they played. But United’s new signing could not exhibit his full potential in his first season at Old Trafford, the reason for which will be revealed later on in the article.
Shifting focus to Pogba, the Frenchman made 50 appearances for the Old Lady in the 2013/14 season, scoring 8 goals to go with creating 60 chances in what turned out to be a good season for the then Antonio Conte’s side that won the Italian Serie A and made it to the Europa League semifinals, losing 1-2 to Benfica on aggregate.
From the aforementioned stats, it is clear that Di Maria is a player who creates chances – and plenty of them – which was also evident during his early United career. Do not forget that he ended the last season with 10 league assists – third only to Cesc Fabregas’ 18 and Santiago Cazorla’s 11 – to his name, and that tally is not bad for a player who suffered a couple of injuries and had his house targeted by burglars. Pogba, on the other hand, is also someone who creates chances, but maybe not as much as Di Maria; where he differs from the Argentine is with his providing of goals (18 goals in 85 appearances over the last two seasons, compared to Di Maria’s 15 in the same number of games).
Despite being crucial central midfielders for their respective sides, both Di Maria and Pogba are not the greatest of passers in the modern game. Di Maria, in fact, hardly ever passes and that is why he often gets called a ‘midfield runner’, someone who picks up the ball deep in his own half and runs 60-70 yards before he makes a decision whether to shoot or play a short pass to another player. In his last two seasons, the Argentine has only completed 82% and 78%, respectively, of his passes. Pogba doesn’t rely on dribbling as much as Di Maria, but over the last two seasons, he has completed only 84% of his attempted passes. Playing alongside Andrea Pirlo, though, could be a staunch reason for him not really excelling in this key aspect of any midfielder’s game.
Moving on to the physical sides of this duo’s game, you probably should know which player has the edge over the other. Di Maria is not keen at contesting aerial duels, or lunging into tackles. Over the last two seasons, the Argentine has attempted 129 tackles (in the league alone), but been successful only on 47 occasions. His aerial prowess is not great either, failing to win even one of his 11 tussles in the air. What it tells you is that tackling and winning balls in the air, are not an integral part of Di Maria’s repertoire. Pogba, on the other hand, excels in these aspects of the game, too, substantiating the reason for City’s desperation to bring him to the Etihad. Over the last two seasons in the Italian Serie A, the Frenchman has attempted 251 tackles, and won 108 (43% success rate) of them; his aerial prowess is much better than his tackling’, winning 114 of the 192 (59.4% success rate) aerial duels involving him.
At the very top of this article, we also spoke about Di Maria’s directness and his penchant for taking on defenders, however, it is Pogba who comfortably overpowers the Argentine in that area of the game, too: the former United midfielder completed an ultra-impressive 75 of the 100 attempted take-ons in 26 league outings last season, while Di Maria attempted 109 take-ons, completing only 45 (41.2%) of them.
Pogba is way better than Di Maria when it comes to the physical side of the game, and there is no smidgen doubt that he will beef up City’s engine room if he makes the switch from Turin.
Why Di Maria didn’t enjoy a good first season at Old Trafford?
As promised mid-way through the article, we shall now investigate the reason for Di Maria not playing to potential in his first season at United. There are multiple ways by which you can describe Di Maria: midfielder, No.10, winger, or even striker. Simply put, he is a versatile footballer who most managers covet.
In his final season at the Santiago Bernabeu, Carlo Ancelotti utilised him in one of the two advanced midfield positions in 4-3-3, harnessing the Argentine’s speed and ability to beat defenders, while also making space for the likes of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to weave their magic in.
Van Gaal, however, wanted to use Di Maria’s versatility, which was the reason for him deploying the 27-year old in a variety of positions. While the constant tweaking in playing positions didn’t help Di Maria thrive, Barclays Premier League outfits knew that stopping the Argentine will significantly alleviate United’s threat as a unit, and the lack of an equally good player at Old Trafford didn’t help Di Maria’s cause.
What can we expect from Pogba?
The deal is far from complete, and it would be a monumental achievement for City if they secure the Frenchman’s signing. That needs to happen first.
Even at just 22, you can safely say that he boasts of a complete game – score goals (headed, and on both foot), win defensive duels and pass accurately, too – the Sky Blues will benefit from. I did an article last week, saying that Pogba’s inclusion will see Manuel Pellegrini switch to a 4-3-3, with Yaya Toure playing alongside a player who, in most ways, is a carbon copy of him. If that prospect materialises, City’s engine room in itself will look irrepressible for most Premier League outfits, and a good number of European opponents, too.
Having only played and excelled in Serie A before, though, Pogba may take time to settle into the English game. Period. His lack of versatility, unlike Di Maria, could actually work in his favour, as he will only play as a No. 6 or No. 8 and after a few games, could work out the style that best suits the Premier League.
Paul Pogba’s game promises a lot of positives for City, and very few, it at all, negatives. He has the attributes that make him comparable to Di Maria, but there are also other aspects of his game, in which he dwarfs the Argentine comfortably.
It is good to see City entering the negotiations with Juventus, exuding confidence in bagging the player who is also coveted by Barcelona and Real Madrid. They must be aware of Pogba’s repertoire, and for a player who is only 22, even paying £80m is definitely a risk worth taking. Di Maria doesn’t become a bad player after one ‘decent’ season at Old Trafford. Now, imagine a similar player with more power, aggression and better goal scoring output and that is what you will get with Pogba.