MANCHESTER, England (AP) – Manchester United has made Paul Pogba the world’s most expensive footballer, signing the France midfielder for around 105 million euros ($116 million) four years after releasing him for virtually nothing.
Pogba signed a five-year deal with an option for a further year, United announced early Tuesday as new manager Jose Mourinho continues to rebuild a team that is out of the Champions League this season.
Pogba was a promising 19-year-old when he left the northern England club after his contract expired, having only made seven appearances as a substitute. He joined Juventus, which reportedly had to pay 800,000 pounds (now around $1 million).
Pogba returns as one of the brightest young talents in the game after winning four successive Serie A titles, and for a fee that eclipses the 101 million euros that Real Madrid spent to sign Gareth Bale from Tottenham in 2013.
“It has always been a club with a special place in my heart and I am really looking forward to working with Jose Mourinho,” Pogba said. “I feel the time is right to go back to Old Trafford. I always enjoyed playing in front of the fans and can’t wait to make my contribution to the team. This is the right club for me to achieve everything I hope to in the game.”
Juventus has already spent most of the windfall from Pogba’s departure, signing Gonzalo Higuain from Italian rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million) earlier this week. That ranked as the third-most expensive transfer in world football – after Gareth Bale’s 101 million euro move from Tottenham to Real Madrid in 2013 and Cristiano Ronaldo’s 94 million euro deal from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009.
Pogba is United’s fourth signing since Mourinho replaced Louis van Gaal as manager of the record 20-time English champions.
“Paul is one of the best players in the world and will be a key part of the United team I want to build here for the future,” Mourinho said. “He is quick, strong, scores goals and reads the game better than many players much older than he is. At 23, he has the chance to make that position his own here over many years.”
Defender Eric Bailly, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic have already joined to help United return to the Champions League. In the upcoming season, they will have to settle with playing in the Europa League. The same agent, Mino Raiola, represents Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan and Pogba.
United will be hoping the newcomers, signed at a collective cost of $190 million, can deliver the team’s first Premier League trophy since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Pogba’s expensive return to Old Trafford follows a bitter split. Ferguson accused Pogba of not showing United “any respect” and insisted he was happy to let Pogba leave in 2012, three years after joining from French club Le Havre. For his part, Pogba said he was unhappy at a lack of first-team opportunities under Ferguson, especially when there were injuries in the squad.
Although Pogba illuminated the Italian league last season at Juventus, he wasn’t as dynamic or influential for France at the European Championship, where his team lost to Portugal in the final.
Clubs usually pay record amounts of cash on strikers or attacking midfielders who can guarantee goals and regular game-changing moments. Pogba is different in this respect – he is an energetic central midfielder with a strong all-round game – so United has been criticized by some pundits for the fee it is paying.
Yet, Mourinho believes Pogba has the potential to be the best player in the world and will be worth the money.
“He is young and will continue to improve,” Mourinho said. “He has the chance to be at the heart of this club for the next decade and beyond.”
It is 20 years since an English club paid a world-record fee, with Blackburn spending 15 million pounds to sign Alan Shearer.
The Premier League has finally ended the trend of elite players moving to the two big Spanish clubs, Barcelona and Madrid, or German powerhouse Bayern Munich. And it’s a statement of intent by United after three years in the wilderness following Ferguson’s retirement at the start of a new era under Mourinho.
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