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The Rumours and the Reality – Pogba, Morrison and Januzaj

There are many benefits of following youth football, but as a Manchester United fan and a youth historian, there is no better feeling than seeing a youngster develop through our youth system and make it to the first team.

At Manchester United we take pride in the fact that we have been the most successful British club in doing this since the 1930’s.

When David Moyes announced the squad for the pre-season tour, it was with particular delight to see Jesse Lingard, Michael Keane and Adnan Januzaj amongst those on the list.

As the regular season got underway, I was hoping that we might see more of Jesse Lingard, however the progress of Adnan Januzaj has been a major plus and something regular youth team followers have been predicting for some time.

So after watching the young Belgian take the Premier League headlines on Saturday evening, and rightly so with a magnificent performance, many fans re-opened the Paul Pogba debate. Maybe, it’s never been fully closed, but when Ravel Morrison’s scored a superb solo goal for West Ham today…bloggers, tweeters and forum posters were out in force.

“We can’t afford to lose Januzaj the way we lost Pogba and Morrison…”

“United cocked up in letting Pogba and Morrison go…”

“Fergie should have just paid Pogba whatever he wanted…”

“Is there a buy-back clause?”

As a consequence, I thought I would share my understanding of the facts, why I believe Alex Ferguson was 100% correct in letting both players move on and why the Januzaj situation is very different.

So…Paul Pogba…let’s talk about what really happened…

  1. Pogba came to the club via Le Havre under some controversy with the French club calling ‘foul’ in our transfer dealings. The fact that UEFA negated Le Havre’s claim put the matter to rest. But Pogba had only been with Le Havre for a short period of time…something he had done with all his previous junior clubs. Track record?
  2. Immediately at Academy level (while some people may disagree with the definition of ‘youth product’…a debate I will leave for another day…he played in our Academy and is regarded as an Academy product) he showed outstanding ability on the pitch and was destined for a fine future in the game.
  3. Pogba had an outstanding 2010/11 season helping us win the FA Youth Cup and was a major ‘potential’ talent alongside Ravel Morrison. Both players were standouts in a very, very good side. They had other good players around them that allowed them both to showcase their skills.
  4. The following season, 2011/12, his form in the reserves was very average. He would have one very good game, followed by an average game, then he was a virtual passenger in the next. Consistency is critical the higher up the ladder you play. Many players have fallen by the way…not because they weren’t talented…but because they were inconsistent.
  5. Alex Ferguson recognised the need to test Pogba at a higher level, give him a taste of first team football and see how he reacted under more significant pressure. The manager gave him a run out in all three League Cup games that term and he did ok without doing anything brilliant. In fact, in the games against Leeds and Aldershot we were winning quite comfortably and it was a real chance for his to excel…something he didn’t do. He showed glimpses of his talent and was certainly one to watch.
  6. This brings us nicely to the Blackburn game. Before the match Pogba has been quoted as saying “I told Ferguson I was ready and that he should pick me…”. During the Christmas period we were suffering from terrible injury problems and Ferguson played an experienced international midfielder in Ji Sung Park and took a gamble on Rafael as Carrick played centre half. When it didn’t pay off he brought on more experience at half-time with Anderson making an appearance. Pogba had three substitute appearances behind him and was putting in average performances in the reserves. There was no logical reason why the manager would have started him and if anyone should have been annoyed that Rafael was preferred it was Anderson. Secondly, I wonder how Alex Ferguson reacted at being told who should be playing and who should not by an inexperienced 18 year-old? Interestingly, the game needed a goal and after bringing on Anderson to strengthen midfield…a logical conclusion…Ferguson then brought on Will Keane in a bid to get an equaliser. No-one will ever know the reasons behind Ferguson’s selection that day…maybe he was testing Pogba’s attitude or maybe he just thought the young Frenchman wasn’t ready.
  7. Ferguson offered Pogba a new contract but the agent wanted a ‘guarantee’ of first team football and a minimum number of first team starts. Ferguson (like most managers) couldn’t guarantee any player a first team place so why would he do so with an inexperienced 18 year-old? You only need to look at how he dropped Wayne Rooney last season to understand that there are no guarantees in football…nor in life come to that matter.
  8. Ferguson then gave Pogba more first team opportunities in the league and in Europe. In March he made three successive substitute appearances for 20, 30 and 35 minutes each, respectively, as Ferguson gradually introduced him to the ‘hurly-burly’ of first team football. However, the youngster still decided not to sign a contract even though the manager assured him he would get more chances during 2012/13 regardless of his poor showing for the reserves during 2011/12. In addition, in his time on the pitch he was just ok…nothing he did particularly stood out…but you could see the makings of a fine player.
  9. I repeat…in those first team outings he showed ‘glimpses’ of his talent and potential but was hardly running games.
  10. At the end of the season Pogba’s agent spoke to numerous clubs and the player and his agent decided a move to Juventus would be better. Only they know why they chose to ignore United’s offer.
  11. Ferguson once again spoke to the player who refused to budge
  12. The player moved to Italy.

So, that’s basically it.

I spoke to another agent who looks after youth players at the time and in their opinion Pogba was ‘badly advised’ and the United offer was ‘in line with other players of the same age, experience and potential’.

So either he or his agent was asking for ‘guarantees’ that were not forthcoming – understandably – and Ferguson was reluctant to give someone a start in an important league game whose form didn’t merit it. In addition, breaking wage and pay structures causes all sorts of problems throughout the club.

Some people have also mentioned that Pogba was upset that Scholes returning put him further back in the queue. When Tom Cleverley was asked about Scholes return…he said he was ‘delighted because he had the opportunity of learning from him…’

An interesting difference in attitude compared to that of Pogba. Fundamentally he left because he/his agent were impatient and wanted to dictate terms to the club.

Other more famous players have tried that in the past and got nowhere.

Finally, imagine if the club tripled his wages (or whatever) and guaranteed him 30 starts. Then his form dipped…or he didn’t progress the way everyone had hoped. Playing in the English league is a million miles away from Italian football. What do we do then? His contract would say we HAD to play him. What a ludicrous situation.

Pogba just didn’t want to play for us so the club couldn’t keep him. He was out of contract and you need two parties to sign a new deal. You can’t lose something you never had. We never had his total commitment to our football club.

Now…Ravel Morrison…what a player! His story is much simpler.

In all my years watching youth football you can rarely say “he is a cert…!”

Norman Whiteside was a cert. Ryan Giggs was a cert. Paul Scholes was a cert.

Ravel Morrison was one of the most talented footballers I have ever seen come through the system. Having joined the club at seven years old, a self-confessed Arsenal and Thierry Henry fan, he was special from the start. By the time I started watching him at 13/14 he could do everything.

His talent is unquestionable….he was a ‘cert’.

Unfortunately for the young Mancunian, his problems off the pitch were worrying. Coming from a severely fractured upbringing his teenage years were a catalogue of personal misdemeanors. I won’t go into detail but an average Google search will show reports of gangland fights, witness intimidation, theft, violence, periods of truancy from the club, refusal to train, amongst other episodes, all of which left the lad with a criminal record.

And it was getting worse.

The club tried getting senior professionals such as Rio Ferdinand to help as a role model. They put him is stable digs with other families. They gave him psychological counseling. When everyone had given up on Ravel, Alex Ferguson still wanted to give him another chance…so aware of his precocious talent.

Unfortunately, the type of behaviour being ‘allowed’ or at least being ‘accepted’ was causing problems amongst many of the junior players.

“Why should I come into training if he doesn’t?”

The club is always bigger than any individual and Ferguson eventually decided to transfer him to another club. A change of scenery was probably best for both parties.

So, two highly talented youngsters with exceptional potential were both unable to make the grade at United for two very different reasons. Both were given chances in the first team with Morrison looking the more comfortable at that level.

Which brings us to Adnan Januzaj.

Firstly, the Belgian teenager of Albanian heritage has none of the off the field issues of Morrison, nor does he have the inconsistency of display or attitudinal issues of Pogba.

When he arrived at the club as a skinny 16 year-old in March 2011, his talent was easily recognised. The drop of a shoulder, the short burst of pace, the ball seemingly tied to his boot-laces and the complete nerve-less-ness. So similar in fact to a young Belfast teenager who arrived at the club 50 years earlier.

Januzaj worked his way through the U/18’s and was included in the 2011/12 Youth team before injury curtailed his campaign. The following term saw him progress further as he started to ‘fill out’ and once again saw Youth Cup action versus Burnley in December 2012.

It was a major turning point.

United put in a woeful second half display and Alex Ferguson went into the changing room after the game giving Januzaj in particular the full force of his invective. The manager made it clear that he thought the youngster was ‘coasting’, ‘wasting his talent’ and it was the display of a ‘pussy’. He was told he would be elevated into the U/21’s and he was expected to show exactly what he could do.

The transformation was instant. His displays for the second string were consistently impressive – consistent being the key word – while he also matured off the pitch. He was rewarded at the end of the season when he was named on the bench for Alex Ferguson’s last ever game in charge.

How poignant would it have been if the teenager also became the Scot’s last debutant?

But here is the real difference between Pogba, Morrison and Januzaj…when he got his first team chance he took it.

Januzaj looked good on the pre-season tour. He looked even better in Rio Ferdinand’s Testimonial. He made his competitive debut in the Charity Shield and kept progressing. So when United were looking for a spark in Saturday’s game against Sunderland Januzaj stepped up and made the difference. His first goal was great movement off the ball as much as a clinical finish. His lack of celebration was a sign of his mental toughness. His second strike was a touch of class…beautifully executed…a joy to watch.

Januzaj has made it tough for Moyes to ignore him. He has put greater power into his negotiation kitbag. His performance on the pitch, and his attitude off of it, has allowed him (and his advisors) to lay down the gauntlet to the club. Something neither Pogba nor Morrison were able to do.

We have the best record in the football league of bringing kids through and giving youngsters a chance. We don’t need to look in the mirror at all when it comes to youth development. However, with his contract terminating at the end of this season Januzaj has created a sense of urgency I’ve never seen before at our club…and for once I am with the majority…Manchester United Football Club…David Moyes…just get him signed!

Finally, I hope that Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison have fine careers in the game and go on to fulfill their potential. But they play for other clubs now and I think it’s time for supporters to move on…there is more talent on our doorstep to get excited about.


Tony Park is a Manchester United Youth historian, statistician and co-author of ‘Sons of United’. Follow @mrmujac on Twitter and buy his book.

16 thoughts on “The Rumours and the Reality – Pogba, Morrison and Januzaj”

  1. Bill says:

    this is nonsense apologism. Sure united were right to get rid of Morrison, but Pogba? rubbish. United offered him paltry game time in a shit midfield and a terrible contract. He’s Juve’s second lowest earner. Madness that United couldn’t stretch to that regardless of any perceived attitude problems – an excuse which at this point looks totally revisionist and designed to justify United’s idiocy

  2. MK says:

    Ever since his performances in the summer I have been nervous about us tying him down to a new deal.

    We have been recruiting 16 year old boys from all over the world. These kids don’t have the same affinity to the club that a British kid would do. This is why we are having these problems.

    I really hope this gets put to bed. The good thing about him getting these opportunities is that he is out in the open and everyone can see how good he is. So it becomes even harder for the club to lose him. The fans would go crazy if it happened. On the other hand, the number of suitors ringing up his agent has probablygone through the roof.

    You would think its pretty clear he is a special talent who could go on to become one of the ebst in the world. So the club must pay his worth to keep him.

    I really hope so but the doubt is lingering.

  3. gary cooke says:

    Reserve team football is not a reliable indicator of a players readiness for first team football. The football is frantic, unformed and frankly brutal. It is a sink for every fringe hopeful and injured returnees desperate to prove their fitness. It is not the environment to assess quality – fitness yes- but quality no. The ball is rarely on the ground and indeed that is fitting, for it is not really what you’d call football.

    The league cup games to which you refer were packed full of lesser talents and unlikely to be of any real help to a new kid on the block. Also Pogba saw the likes of Darron Gibson being given substantial game – time along with mediocrities such as Park Si Sung and the erratic Anderson. I can understand his frustration.

    Yes, Pogba clearly had an attitude but that is presumably one of the constituents parts of what makes a footballer potentially great. You are right when you say that he didn’t have much loyalty to the club, but then there IS no loyalty in football. You are either wanted or you’re not. Just ask Jim Leighton.

    I do blame Ferguson for failing to recognise his talent. In fact the final few years of Ferguson’s reign saw his judgement becoming increasingly clouded. Why for instance did he give Macheda so many chances when it was clear he wasn’t good enough. (Indeed a player who did well in the reserves. Why did he let Rossi leave? Why didn’t Eikrem get the chance Muelensteen thought he deserved? Why why why…..?

    The Ferguson narrative is that he could do no wrong, and that his judgement was beyond question. But closer scrutiny does not totally support that.

  4. JW says:

    Adnan is a ‘young Cruyff’ , and I want him to sign a new contract as much as anyone else.
    However United can never agree to a clause that overrules the Manager’s ability to decide who plays. If his agent and father insist on this he will be somewhere else come next summer. A real shame, but it would be suicidal as a club to agree such clauses, it will leak, and everyone will demand one.
    I understand Morrison’s contract has an ‘escape/buy back’ clause of £19m inserted at the behest of the player. Its a lot of money, but as Ravel seems now to have learned to control ‘his demons’ it would be very good business to get him back . It will look very cheap in years to come. With him, Powell and hopefully Adnan, we would have the ‘attacking midfield’ sewn up for years.

  5. Christian Joergensen says:

    No matter how much you try to rationalize and justify the Pogba situation, you are wasting your time. Your piece on him is well written and you have some good points, but I don’t agree.

    You say he only played well in 1/3 of the games for the reserves. First off all, I don’t agree on that number. Of course he didn’t stand out the way he did the year before because the competition was tougher. Secondly I felt that he showed an immense amount of maturity and composure for an 18 year old kid. For me, he deserved more first team appearances(Cup) in 11/12, than he got in 12/13. Which brings me to my next point.

    You make it sound like he actually got enough chances to prove his worth, but blew it. Again, I completely disagree. He got the 3 appearances in the League Cup, which was good. But you say that he “didn’t do anything brilliant”. Well, is that the criteria for playing regular first team football? I can name you a good handful of first team players that don’t “do anything brilliant” on a regular basis. Definately not every third game anyway. Pogba did fine in those games, which is what you can expect from a kid’s first 3 first team experiences.

    Then there is the Blackburn game. If you are behind a right back in the CM pecking order, there is a long way to go. I am not saying, that Pogba should get to decide, if he gets to start or not, but when you have a player with his talent and ambition(not to be mistaken for a bad attitude), this way the perfect opportunity to show him that he was at least not miles away from breaking into the first team. I completely understand why he was discouraged and even dissapointed with the situation after that game.

    The substitute appearanced he had was a farce. It was obviously just to try and get him to sign a new contract, and not because there was actually any intention of giving him a shot at becoming a first team regular. Sporadic last 20 minute cameo’s are not enough to show your worth as a CM.

    I have written far more than I intended to, but I really just hate this concensus that Pogba had a bad attitude and that we are better off without him. The kid wanted to play, and he deserved to play. All the proof we need is right in front of us. Look at what he has done in his debut season for Juventus. And mind you that he has been competing with the likes of Pirlo, Aturo Vidal and Marchisio for the spot. He was good enough for the first team when he left and he still is, even with the acquisition of Fellaini.

    It is too bad that Pogba’s confidence and moxy was seen as a bad attitude. Fergie made a mistake in my opinion. He should have swallowed his pride and put his stubbornness behind him. It would have secured us what looks like a future world class player and saved us a £27m last minute solution.

  6. Chris says:

    I’ve watched every minute of Pogba at MUFC that has ever been shown on MUTV (U18/U21/first team), including his interviews with MUTV, his reactions/celebrations lifting the Reserve League Trophy, FA Youth Cup etc. Too me he seemed a very confident, sometimes maybe a little “cocky”, but truly gifted young player that cared for the team and the results. He hated losing and was upset with himself if a trick or a shot on goal did not come off as he imagined.

    One moment that really stood out for me was a 20-minute cameo from Pogba at home against Stoke in PL in January 2012. He was just excellent. He grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck when he came on, running the play from midfield. Passing the ball well, beating players, creating chances. He made a strong mark on the game, during just 20 mins of playing time. You could tell he was special. And he was still just 18 years old.

    I don’t know all the detailes with his agent, his demands or his behaviours etc. But in pure sporting terms there could be no doubt what so ever that Paul Pogba had what it takes to make good Man Utd first-team player. Especially as his position on the field coincided with a weak area, both in quality and numbers, in the first team. Football wise it was a no-brainer in my opinion, Paul Pogba was good enough for Man United. By a mile. Something that was very quickly confirmed as he played close to 40 games for eventually the Serie A winners Juventus in his first season at the club, including 8 CL games. He now plays for the french national team too.

    Other reportedly off-field stuff I cannot comment on, but the feeling Man United missed out big time on this one will linger with me for a long long time to come. “Frustrated” sums it up.

  7. faha says:

    EPL is miles away from Serie A. Huge misconsepction that all EPL fans have. Just read Tevez’ recent inteview when he says that he’s never run more in his career and that Serie A is wrongully considered an “easy” league. Thanks for Pogba, btw.

  8. ChrisW says:

    I agree with the posters on here that Ferguson got it badly wrong with Pogba. I’m also not so sure he got it right with Morrison. West Ham loaned him out for a year to Birmingham and have been mentoring him carefully since he returned. It seems to have worked. What couldn’t we have done that rather than sell him?

  9. gary cooke says:

    Tony, just read Patrice Evra’s comments re Pogba and that will tell you everything you need to know….

  10. Darshan says:

    Excellent read

  11. Graham Walters says:

    This has all the hallmarks of someone who hasn’t played the game at any level, or at least had to come on as a sub to “prove your worth” you say he was given 25, 30 and 35 mins, it can take a sub that long to get into a game, let alone make a mark on it.
    I also think you are wrong on the contract situation, Pogba was free to talk to Juve in the January, thats when agreed to sign for them, not in the summer.
    Since moving to Juve he has made 39 appearances and scored 6 goals, more than Welbeck who seems to have charmed life at United.
    As for questioning Sir Alex over the use of Rafael, why isn’t he allowed to say it retrospectively, he didn’t say anything at the time, you are misquoting him, he says it’s what he thought !

    Too many talented youngsters left in the Ferguson years simply because the pressure for him to succeed was greater than the need to bring talent through, we ended up being a buying club, and deserting the ethics of the class of ’92

  12. ua2 says:

    the article’s author is trying to console himself over pogba. He’s shown more in his tenure at juventus than bogbrush will ever show. 27.5 million…yer having a laugh. Even when we have midfield solutions we can’t make it work.

    Some one cocked up, simple as.

  13. Harish says:

    easy for you lot to say in hindsight about Pogba…I kinda agree with what the author has said regarding Pogba…SAF watched him more than us…let us remember that…so Pogba did not do something right, or probably was just not ready yet to be playing 90 minutes, or even come on when we were on the backfoot, or didnt have any experience whatsoever to deliver under pressure…SAF wanted to ease Pogba in…Pogba was impatient…he left…end of! I wouldnt really blame anyone here though…probably Pogba needed some more time to get tuned to the United way of play…but was ready for Juve’s system…again…I am not saying 1 is better than the other…its just different and Pogba fitted better into Juve’s…mind you…he had 3 experienced players in Vidal, Kwado Asamoah and Andrea Pirlo ahead and he’s managed to push his way in…these things happen…look at Forlan, Veron, Rossi, Eikrem etc…all struggled to make an impact at United and are/were successful elsewhere…sometimes, though they seem to be the perfect player or the need of the hour…things dont happen at the pace we expect them to…and some people choose to wait patiently (Fletcher, Cleverley, Welbeck), whereas others move on…its all part of the game…just hope Fellaini doest join the list of those struggling to make an impact…the talent is definitely there…the question is…how long is he going to need to bed in!!!!

  14. Araz says:

    On Pogba, he’s the one that got away. Clearly, Juventus rated him as a player and SAF thought his attitude would be an issue. He got one wrong. It’s ok to admit these things. Look at Pogba now. He’s a champion and has grown leaps and bounds since leaving. I also don’t agree with your opinion that the BPL is better than the Italian league by a mile. Juventus for example, would boss a game against United.

    On Morrison. He was a troubled kid and the club chose Ferdinand as mentor? Why not just introduce him to Joey Barton and be done with it.

    On Januzaj. He’s been great thus far. A real bright spark. but holding on to him doesn’t change the fact that United have let two midfielders with immense potential leave the club and are now signing players like Fellaini.

  15. Dave Smith says:

    You haven’t really explained away the mistakes United made with Morrison at all. They could have loaned him out just like West Ham did.

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