Yes, Manchester United won a huge, potentially era-defining victory when they convinced Paul Pogba to join them this summer. It makes sense that everyone at the club would be ecstatic about it. What is less necessary is the way the club, and shit-talk lover José Mourinho himself, appear to be using this as an opportunity to ride on their enemies.
As we’ve said before, what makes the Pogba transfer such a big deal for United is how it reverses the narrative that the club is a fallen one that can no longer attract the world’s best, most promising players. When United talked a big game about going after bonafide superstars like Ronaldo, Bale, and/or Neymar, we rightfully laughed at their misbegotten arrogance, knowing there was no way those players would join the sad simulacrum of the once-proud and indomitable Manchester United. Pogba’s not yet as good as those guys, but everyone believes that he’s destined to get close to that level pretty soon, so the club is justified in rejoicing that finally, they have brought in a veritable, highly-coveted stud.
Of course, there are a number of mitigating factors that take the sheen off the most triumphant reading of the transfer—namely, that neither Bayern Munich or Barcelona tried at all to get him this summer; that even Real Madrid weren’t really serious about trying to sign him; that, had Pogba not spent a few years of his early career at United and grown so attached to it back then, it’s very hard to imagine him joining the club now, in it’s current state. Manchester, though, are not trying to hear that. They got the best player on the market by flexing their economic muscle, and they’re desperate to scream “HAHA” at the haters who didn’t think it was possible or advisable.
Mourinho himself took the clearest shot at his rivals once the deal was sealed up. Not long ago, Mourinho’s arch-nemeses Arsène Wenger and Jürgen Klopp had some sharp words for Man U’s then-unconsummated Pogba courtship. From the Guardian:
Pogba is poised to rejoin United for a world-record fee of around £100m. The proposed deal has been greeted with incredulity by Wenger, who described the sum as “completely crazy”, while Klopp said he would prefer not to work in a game where £100m transfers became the norm.
Mourinho clapped back by calling the comments made by “two of my colleagues from other clubs” unethical, due to the way they were sticking their noses in another club’s business. (Something Mourinho himself has never been known to do, of course.) Now, in light of the deal’s completion, Mourinho is grabbing his foes’ sniffing nostrils and rubbing them into the dank turd United just dropped on the soccer game:
A transcription of the relevant comments, offered in response to the question “What do you most like about Paul as a player?” via the Telegraph:
“I like everything [about Pogba],” the United manager said. “I know the discussion, I understand that – sometimes in football, things happen and the club breaks the record, but this is only possible at clubs like Man United.
“When I heard some of the comments and heard some of the managers criticising that, I don’t think they ever have this problem because, to have this problem, you need to be at one of the top clubs in the world. So at Man United it can happen.”
Typical, brash, cocky, confrontational (and correct in this instance, since it is a little rich for Wenger and Klopp to decry enormous transfer fees like this when they’re both at clubs who couldn’t pay sums like that even if they wanted) Mourinho. He may have came back a little stronger than he needed to, but that’s why we love him.
Had that been all, everything would’ve been fine. However, the same Telegraph article proceeds to stump for the fiction that United want everyone to believe about the deal, that it represents some pivotal shift in the balance of power between the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, who have enjoyed first dibs on all the world’s best players for years and years now, and the TV contract-rich Premier League clubs like United.
Here’s one example:
Having lost out to Real for Bale in 2013, Toni Kroos the year after and Karim Benzema in 2009, the same summer as Cristiano Ronaldo left Old Trafford for the Bernabéu, as well as seeing Ronaldinho and David Villa snub their advances in favour of joining Barcelona, United believe Pogba’s decision to reject Real’s advances could prove a turning point in the flow of players away from Spain’s top two clubs and back towards English football’s elite.
Given that Real had won the European Cup in May, are managed by Pogba’s compatriot and idol Zinedine Zidane, were ready to break the bank to sign him with a transfer embargo looming for allegedly breaching rules governing the signing of players under 18, and that United had no offer Champions League football to offer this season, the Manchester club believe the signing was a coup.
Sounds maybe fine, only Pogba didn’t “reject Real’s advances” at all, and Real at no point were “ready to break the bank to sign him.” Following the entire saga, it seemed pretty clear that Pogba welcomed Real’s interest, would’ve actually preferred to have wound up there, and didn’t only because Madrid’s club president didn’t think it was worth the trouble and expense to sign the Frenchman, despite Zidane’s interest.
[Gary Lineker]’s remarks [about the switch of power from Spain to England] have resonated with senior officials at United, who also cite goalkeeper David De Gea’s decision to spurn Real’s advances this summer in order to stay at the club as another significant development.
The De Gea stuff is referencing Real’s (hilarious) failed attempt to sign the goalkeeper last summer, which was thwarted only by a slow fax machine. In that transfer’s immediate aftermath, many assumed Real would come back for the Spain international this summer, but they haven’t. By all accounts, Real are perfectly content with Keylor Navas between the posts, a star keeper in his own right who was at times Madrid’s best player last season. I’ve yet to see one credible report that Real have made any kind of concerted effort to whisper into De Gea’s ear this window.
This all serves as further proof of what we said when the Pogba deal finally went through, that it was as much about the money and PR benefits—which is to say, the optics of Manchester United finally getting a (soon-to-be?) great player—concomitant with the transfer as it was about how Pogba’s actual soccer skills will help them win games. It’s fine for United to beat their chests about this to some degree, and it’s great fun when done in the assholish but factual way Mourinho exhibited above.
But don’t get too chesty just yet, United, and especially don’t try to make the transfer into more than what it really is. This team might appear well poised to do something special right now, but it’s a long, treacherous journey back to the top of the mountain.