Friday 28 October 2016

Paul Scholes: My return from retirement did not help Paul Pogba's Manchester United career

Paul Scholes

Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30

When I look back on my return from retirement for Manchester United in the spring of 2012, I sometimes wonder whether coming back into the team contributed to blocking the development of young players who were hoping to break through - one in particular.

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Paul Pogba was a bright young lad who made his debut for United at the end of January that year in a game I played in against Stoke City.

He left the following summer after many genuine attempts by the club to persuade him to stay, went to Juventus on a deal that was worth only a training compensation payment to United and now is one of the hottest properties in European football.

Next week, Juventus face Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final and Pogba might be back from injury for the second leg in Spain on May 13.

I have heard his value put at anything up to £70m. He is undoubtedly a very talented boy and there is no question that, given the choice, and on the right terms, United would rather have kept him than not.

Would it have been any different if I had not come back for that last 18 months?

I think my return to the team, and the game time Pogba got, was a small part of it.

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From United's point of view, it is always difficult to tell just when a young footballer is going to mature into a first-class professional ready to play at the highest level, but the story of how Pogba slipped away from United has more than one strand to it.

I should say that Alex Ferguson wanted to keep Pogba. (below) We all knew there was a very good player in the making.

Little details about young footballers catch your eye when you have been around a big club for a long time. At first it can be minor things, like the way certain young players stand out from the group when the academy lads cross paths with the senior team on their way to training in the morning.

At first sight, Pogba was notable for his size and physicality and, when you got to know him, there was also a confidence about him. When he was eventually sent over to train with the first team he was unafraid. Not just in the way that he played but that he had the confidence to come up to senior players and seek out advice.

He was dedicated that way. He was absolutely desperate to make it is as a footballer, and he grabbed every chance he had to learn.

Pogba was a very good footballer: technically excellent, and he knew how to strike a ball. He spoke to me about improving his range of passing.

So, after training we would spend time pinging the ball to each other from 50 yards distance. He had stronger suits to his game than his long passing - his power, his technique in close quarters, his athleticism - but he was determined to get better at what he thought was the weaker part of his game.

When I first retired in the summer of 2011, I spent the start of the next season working with Warren Joyce, the coach of the U-21s.

Pogba was in that squad and the truth is that, while he obviously had bags of potential, he was not really playing well enough in that period up to Christmas 2011 to warrant a place in the first-team squad on a permanent basis, let alone start games.

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Nevertheless, he made three League Cup appearances before the end of the year and, following that, his Premier League debut before his 19th birthday.

As I recall, the home game against Blackburn Rovers on the last day of 2011 - a surprise defeat for United as it turned out - had been a key moment in Pogba's thinking.

Injuries meant that the manager played Michael Carrick in defence and in midfield he selected Rafael da Silva alongside Park Ji-sung. Paul was on the bench and very frustrated that he had not started the match.

So by the time I came back into the side in January he might well have made up his mind that he was leaving.

I don't suppose it helped having an old boy come back into the team in front of him, but the reality was that he had not played well enough to deserve a regular place before then.

If that had been the case, our manager would undoubtedly have selected him. He had no problem picking a young player once he was convinced the lad in question was ready.

Although I never spoke to the manager about it, the understanding in the dressing room was that Pogba's advisors just asked for too much money for his next professional deal.

They wanted first-team money for a player who was not in the first team at that stage. United felt that was not right and stuck to their principles. He left that summer and very quickly established himself at Juventus.

That can happen, but you have to give Juventus credit for giving him the opportunity.

As for United, I don't feel they should go back to sign Pogba for the sums being talked about having lost him for the compensation payment.

I understand that Chelsea did the same when they bought back Nemanja Matic from Benfica, but his fee was nothing like the numbers quoted for Pogba.

To go back to my earlier point, did I contribute to blocking Pogba's route to the first team?

Or was it just one of those strange coincidences that he blossomed into a first team-ready player just months after his contract with United expired?

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Timing is everything with young players and even at a club like United, who have given so many chances to young players, it is possible for events to work against you.

I look at Chelsea now, and I wonder if they might be working against themselves as well.

Watching the second leg of the FA Youth Cup final, I was really impressed with the front three of Dominic Solanke, Isaiah Brown and Tammy Abraham - especially Solanke, who is only 17, and Brown. There are more who I could imagine playing for Chelsea's first team at some point.

Will Jose Mourinho make the room for these boys? Will the club keep topping up with experienced players every time they lose one - as they surely will with Didier Drogba at the end of this season?

If, by some chance, Chelsea had a transfer embargo for three years and had no choice but to move these players on to the first team, I don't believe they would be short of good players.

To a lesser extent the same would be true at Manchester City, who also have some good youngsters.

It would force their hand with the kids. In the short-term it might mean that they lost out but the long-term rewards would be huge. (© Independent News Service)

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