Telling people how to enjoy sports is equal parts idiotic and futile, but I'm going to do it anyway.
If you think so much about the future that you can't enjoy what's happening in the present, that's bad. If you're so obsessed with a player's monetary value or ranking among the hierarchy of footballers that you can't enjoy what they're doing on a week-to-week basis, that's also bad. Right now, a lot of people are going through the Paul Pogba experience the absolute wrong way by thinking way too much about this stuff.
This has been the case for almost all of Pogba's career, and I'm as guilty as anyone else of caring more about taking the piss out of Alex Ferguson than enjoying the stuff Pogba was doing on the pitch. And this week, ahead of Juve's big match against Torino, his value and future took center stage again after his agent Mino Raiola opened his giant mouth.
Pogba was linked to every big club in Europe this summer, but didn't go anywhere. He wanted to stay at Juventus for another season and they didn't want to sell him. He would have cost potential suitors around €100 million -- colloquially known as Too Much Money -- and might have commanded a world record transfer fee if he left.
"We can't give figures, but last year Juventus said no to offers of €85 million," said Raiola. "€100 million? Juve have always said that's the sum they want. It's a way of saying he's one of the best players on the planet. He's very expensive. At Rolls-Royce they say ‘if you have to ask how much the car costs, you can't afford it'."
"But Pogba isn't worth €100 million," cries the imaginary reader who lives in my head, and in many ways they're right. Pogba hasn't put together a good season for Juventus. With Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo gone, he's struggled to adjust to a role where he's supposed to be the star, running the show in transition, racking up double-digit goals and assists. He's supposed to be SuperGerrard, but instead he's been one of many under-performing players whose average form has led to Juve's four Serie A losses.
He hasn't lost his talent, though. Eighteen minutes into Juve's derby match against Torino, Pogba did this.
Credit: user JCMarino123 on r/soccer
For the rest of the match, he wasn't influential. By just about any measure, Pogba was Juve's least effective midfielder for the next 70 minutes -- he had fewer touches, competed passes, passes to the strikers and passes that led to shots than Hernanes and Claudio Marchisio. He completed 93 percent of his passes, but he had a couple of noticeable, poor turnovers. He was fine, but didn't look like a star as he allowed his teammates to run the show during a close local rivalry game.
Then stoppage time happened.
Credit: user JCMarino123 on r/soccer
The backheel to Hernanes was perfect. The composure he showed on his pass to Alex Sandro when he was almost certainly tempted to take a rip was equally impressive, even if it was less flashy. It won Juventus the match.
So what do we make of this, if we're committed to trying to make something of it? Pogba was, on the whole, Juve's third-best midfielder on the night. He also made the game's two most decisive plays. This describes a lot of Pogba's performances, and ostensibly does not describe a player worth €100 million.
It's hard to figure out how much any given player is worth, though, and no one has (publicly) nailed down a system yet. But €100 million is a hell of a lot of money to any club, for any player, and would make him one of the three most expensive footballers of all time, alongside Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. It's also a nice round number with one digit more than most transfer fees, which freaks people out. €95 million for Pogba? Sounds like a lot, but he's a big talent, perhaps he'll live up to that fee in a year or two. €100 million? No, surely not.
There are two closely related things we have to account for when evaluating Pogba. The first is that he spent most of his first three seasons at Juventus next to the aforementioned Vidal and Pirlo, two of the best in the world at what they do. They attracted a lot of attention and made life easier for Pogba. He is now playing next to Hernanes and Marchisio, two decent but ultimately inferior players. And instead of having Carlos Tevez in front of him, he's trying to combine with a much younger player, Paulo Dybala.
Hernanes has spent his whole career as a box-to-box midfielder or advanced playmaker, and is now learning how to fill Pirlo's role at the age of 30. Marchisio is a good player who has been at Juve for a long time, but he was previously beat out for a starting role by a child and a defensive liability who could hardly run. Dybala is a massive talent, but a decade younger than Tevez, in just his second season in a top league. These are inferior teammates.
It's possible that Pogba's not all he's cracked up to be and he was just made to look good by Vidal (one of the most complete players on earth), Pirlo (who is only half a starting midfielder but is the best in the world at the things he can actually do) and Tevez, who is as intelligent as he is industrious. It's also possible that Pogba is the most talented young midfielder in the world, and him and his new mates in the center just need to get used to each other. We don't know yet, which is part of thing we need to account for No. 2: Holy crap, y'all, he's only played 15 games this season.
Pogba isn't going anywhere this winter unless Barcelona offers up €120 million plus Sergi Roberto and a few other unmentionable perks for the Agnelli family. Barring that or injury, he's going to play 30-plus more games for the Bianconeri before this summer. That's a lot of games to mesh with teammates, score goals, rack up assists and leave no doubt that someone should throw down a world record fee for him. He might not be worth €100 million right now, but he's also not for sale right now.
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It would certainly be fun to watch Pogba combine with Neymar or try to single-handedly save Chelsea right now, and maybe you think it would be equally fun to "banter him off" or whatever you want to call it for being a crap player who cost €100 million, but what we actually get to experience right now is pretty cool too. His training wheels are gone and he's been asked to lead Juventus on his own. He's fallen down and scraped his knees a couple times, but he sure as hell is getting the hang of it. On Saturday, he went off a couple of jumps and stuck the landing both times.
What Juventus are doing with Pogba right now is basically unprecedented, since all the near-parallels veer off the graph at some point. Eden Hazard had and lost good teammates, but Lille was a small team with small expectations. Bale had to be the young star in a top league, but his team never returned to the Champions League after his big breakout performances against Inter Milan. Neymar led Santos to titles as a teenager, but South American soccer is a much lower standard. At no point was Mario Götze considered to be far and away the best player on Borussia Dortmund, primarily responsible for the team's success or failure. It's extremely rare for a team as big as Juventus to cast off all of their top veteran talent, replace them with kids and value signings, then pin all of their hopes for the season on a player as young as Pogba. That was an incredible vote of confidence.
Is he worth all that? We don't know, but watching the answer reveal itself is going to be really fun.
It's okay to not know if Pogba is worth €100 million. We can have that conversation in May. But for the next seven months, we get to watch him try to figure out how to be the superstar that Juventus needs. We get to see whether he's ready to take over games on his own.
We'll get to watch Pogba combine with fellow ultra-expensive superstars on a superclub in the future, while debating his place among the best players in the world, and for a long time. Instead of thinking about that, let's enjoy something that is both fleeting and right in front of us, right now: Paul Pogba learning to lead Juventus.