Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP)
Ahead of Barcelona's Champions League trip to Old Trafford, the
Catalans' president has admitted even they could not compete with
Manchester United's then world record offer to bring Paul Pogba
back to England in 2016.
"We couldn't afford that amount of money at the time," Josep
Maria Bartomeu told ESPN.
"So he went to United, and he's making them better as a team
because he's one of the stars of the world of football right
However, nearly three years on, United can feel they have still
to receive sufficient bang for the bucks they paid to Juventus
for Pogba in an £89 million ($116 million) transfer fee.
The French World Cup winner will start for just the second time
in a Champions League knockout game for United on Wednesday.
Benched for both legs of a bitterly disappointing last 16 exit to
Sevilla last season by Jose Mourinho due to personal differences
and poor performances, Pogba's only previous start ended in a red
card and a 2-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain back in February.
Without their suspended star, a youthful United side pulled off a
miraculous 3-1 win in Paris to make it to the last eight for the
first time in five years and give Pogba another chance to shine
on the Champions League stage.
The arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to replace the sacked
Mourinho in December removed any excuses that it was the
Portuguese's straitjacket that was limiting the output of one his
most talented players.
An upturn in form was immediate. Pogba scored nine goals and
created six more in his first 12 games under Solskjaer.
However, his form has cooled since, and not by coincidence so has
United's with three defeats in their last four games.
- Madrid interest? -
Pogba has also not done his approval ratings among the United
fans any favours by publicly flirting with Real Madrid while away
on international duty last month and talking of his admiration
for Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
"He's capable of doing everything. There are midfielders who know
how to defend really well, others who are very good in attack. He
knows how to do everything," said Zidane.
There can little better audition for a Madrid target than ending
Barca's bid for a third treble in a decade.
However, United are entitled to want Pogba to show the potential
Zidane spoke of on a more regular basis.
For a club steeped in a history of inspirational midfielders such
as Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes who demanded the
highest standards of themselves and those around them, Pogba is
too often hit or miss.
Indeed, there have even been suggestions that United would be
wise to cash in if a bid north of £100 million from Madrid
materialises this summer, and use the money for the big
rebuilding job needed at Old Trafford.
When United and Barca met in the Champions League final in 2009,
it was the Red Devils who were pre-match favourites.
Instead, Lionel Messi was on target as Pep Guardiola's side
emerged victorious in Rome, and he struck again when the sides
met again in the final two years later.
Messi is still Barca's inspiration and with him they have made
the last eight every season since. By contrast, this is just
United's second quarter-final in the last eight years.
The signing of Pogba was meant to signal United's return to the
It is time for him to deliver on the biggest stage.