Angering fans on a skiing trip, ‘mental problems’ over staying fit, a witchdoctor scandal… and now Saudi riches are calling: Paul Pogba’s return has been a disaster.
If a footballer was to write a guide on how not to endear yourself to a new club they could simply refer to Paul Pogba – 2022-23.
After returning to Juventus from Manchester United the hope for the World Cup winner was that he could return to the form that earned him an £89million move to the Premier League in the first place.
What has instead taken place is a disastrous return for club and player.
Injuries have consumed the Frenchman all season and he’s won headlines on the front and back pages, at home in France and in Italy, for various rows and legal battles.
The latest to emerge came a day after Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad. The side recently signed two of his compatriots in Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante – although it was reported in France, via L’Equipe, that he will turn down those advances to fight for his future in Turin.
The question is, with Juventus reportedly in line to save £27m if he walks out of the door of the Allianz Stadium and does not come back this summer, is he someone they should fight to keep?
Pogba tore the meniscus in his knee during a pre-season tour of America. He was eventually forced to agree to an operation to repair the injury after alternative therapies failed to help.
He then suffered another setback in October, suffering with a thigh muscle issue which further delayed his return, all the while Juventus fans are grumbling about whether they have swung and missed in the market on the injury-plagued Frenchman.
In the end, across an unfortunate season, he only played six times in Serie A for Juventus without ever completing a full 90 minutes.
Pogba’s last Serie A appearance came on May 14, 2023, in which he played just 24 minutes of a 2-0 win over Cremonese. He was consoled by team-mates as he looked to be emotional on the pitch as medical staff tended to him.
With speculation rife that his mindset was off, Pogba alluded to the ‘mental’ barriers that he has battled with.
After that injury he also took to Instagram with a lengthy explanation of his troubles to fans.
But while this grand sense of reflection came at the end of a torrid season, there are legions of the fan-base that had long been turned off by Pogba’s unreliability.
Back in December of last year many were left confused and irritated when Pogba, sidelined through injury, shared pictures of himself enjoying the ski slopes over the festive period.
At that stage Pogba had yet to appear for Juventus since rejoining the club and there fans saw him, smiling in social media skiing selfies.
A Juventus-dominated newspaper, spoke of ‘agitated’ fans questioning his senses in going out on the slopes – albeit he wasn’t skiing in the images posted – when he was rehabbing injury.
Criticisms made their way to the airwaves too, with former Juventus midfielder Marco Tardelli among those ticked off.
With tensions already high, what do you think Pogba does? Well, he mocks those criticising him.
Undettered by the backlash of the photos, Pogba elected to share a video of him dancing in the snow to his 56million-plus Instagram followers with the caption: ‘Me skiing for those who were wondering,’ with a skiing and cry-laughing emoji.
In the video he mimicked using skis before jumping forward. He then turns around and faces the camera, smiling, before carrying out several more mock-skiing poses.
As you can imagine, it did not go down well.
It’s one thing being attacked in the court of public opinion and another being confronted by investigators as part of a wider police investigation into extortion, with the player a victim.
Pogba described to investigators how he was threatened by two hooded men brandishing assault rifles after being lured into a flat in Chanteloup-en-Brie, in the eastern suburbs of Paris on March 19.
The midfielder was there on international duty, four days after a burglary in Manchester which saw his wife, Zulay, and the couple’s two young boys threatened.
Also reported to be present in the Paris property were four of Pogba’s childhood friends, identified as Boubacar C., Adama C. and two brothers called Roushdane and Machikour K.
Pogba claims he had his mobile phone taken away and was told to pay the £11m in return for ‘protection fees’ going back 13 years – the length of his professional career.
As the story goes, Pogba began trying to raise the money, before being released at 4am, while being told that he would be watched.
In turn, the childhood friends said they were being threatened by a mafia-style gang who were controlling the entire extortion operation.
Roushdane K. said he had been shot in a hand by the unidentified gangsters, while Mamadou M. said they burned his car out.
After making an initial payment of €100,000 (£88,000), Pogba realised the blackmailers were stalking him around the training ground of his current club, Juventus, and so filed a complaint to the Italian authorities on July 16.
But there was another element to this jaw-dropping story.
Pogba had been accused of paying for, and using, a witchdoctor called ‘Ibrahim the Great’, who charges as much as €100 (£88) an hour for his services.
It was alleged he was using the witchdoctor to harm Kylian Mbappe, something he and his associates have consistently and vehemently denied.
As part of an investigation by the Mail on Sunday, it was reported last year that Pogba did indeed pay a sorcerer, instead to help him with his injury-plagued career.
Pogba told investigators working for France’s Central Office for the Fight against Organised Crime (OCLCO) that he was ‘looking to be protected against injury’ and ‘also to help poor kids in Africa’ he was in connection with through an aid organisation.
Two judicial sources in Paris confirmed the revelations – and the transcript from interviews completed last month.
As part of the story about the attack, it is claimed that Pogba was given a guarantee that the witchdoctor evidence, contained on a USB stick, would not be released should he pay the £11m.
And to compound the tale, his brother Mathias, himself a former footballer in England, was standing accused of being involved in the extortion plot.
Mathias was arrested and charged last September, before being released from prison in December, having been held in pre-trial detention.
Four other people were also placed under formal investigation for extortion and criminal association.
Mathias Pogba has always insisted he is innocent, with his lawyer saying he is ‘a complete stranger’ to any extortion attempt as the probe continues.
He was released under judicial review and has been prohibited from contacting Paul, leaving France and using social networks.
Happening all while Pogba was injured, those in Turin could only watch on in astonishment as stresses piled onto him.
And now we are here – should Juventus stick or twist.
It has been reported that Juventus would save a staggering £26.9m on their wage bill if they manage to offload Pogba to play in Saudi Arabia, according to an investigation of the player’s contract in Italy.
Upon joining as a free agent, the 30-year-old was handed a bumper £6.8million-per-season contract, but Juventus are yet to see a return on their investment.
Pogba’s 10 appearances during last season meant that the midfielder received a staggering £680,000 (€800,000) per game – and £42,488 (€ 49,689) per minute played.
When tax is factored into Pogba’s contract, the Italian outlet discovered, Juventus pay around £8.9m (€10.5m), and after signing the French midfielder on a four-year deal, could see the club spend a total of close to £35.9m (€52m) in wages on him.
This could even rise to as high as £42.9m (€50m), should Pogba achieve the necessary bonuses and add-ons detailed in his contract. Huge sums given such little activity on the pitch.
And we will see. But if reports in France are to believed and he stays pat at Juventus, something has to change fast. The only silver lining is that, for Pogba and for Juventus, it really can’t get much worse.