A Career Apocalypse – The Exceptional Rise and Brutal Fall of Paul Pogba

I am sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built in my professional playing career has been taken away from me.

After being handed a four-year suspension by Italy’s anti-doping tribunal, this is how Paul Pogba commented on the severe verdict.

Obviously, this was a well-drafted statement released by his legal team. Yet, it perfectly summarizes the demise of what began as one of the most promising football careers in the 21st century. And while the comment above was only referring to Thursday’s sentence, it is easily applicable to a series of other unfortunate events that plagued the Frenchman’s career over the past few years.

For a footballer, a lengthy ban is a devastating blow they may or may not recover from, mostly depending on age and desire. But in Pogba’s case, it is slightly different. Rather than being a sudden blast that halted his momentum, this one felt like the final nail in the coffin, succeeding other similarly calamitous occurrences.

Later this month, the midfielder will be celebrating his 31st birthday. But who would have imagined that the youngster who left Juventus and Serie A fans in awe a decade ago was destined to endure such an agonizing and short playing career?

The Juventus Jewel

While Pogba’s name may have first emerged during his original stint at Manchester United, the player truly exploded onto the scene after making his free transfer to Juventus in 2012.

When the 19-year-old star scored his maiden goal against Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli, the exultant black-and-white crowds at the Allianz Stadium didn’t merely celebrate a victory over their Southern rivals, but more importantly, the rise of an undoubtedly exceptional star.

In essence, signing the young Frenchman as a free agent was arguably the one move that defined then-Juventus General Manager Giuseppe Marotta as the undisputed mastermind in Italian football. If Andrea Pirlo’s switch from Milan to Turin was the initial evidence, Pogba was the ultimate proof that illustrated the genius of the current Inter CEO.

While Marotta and his then-collaborator Fabio Paratici certainly had it right, Pogba’s departure was depicted as Sir Alex Ferguson’s final blunder, as he allowed the Le Havre youth product to slip through his fingers (aside from anointing David Moyes as his successor).

For four years, Pogba achieved great accolades at Juventus, whether on a personal or collective level. And with every new achievement, Man Utd fans were left to lament their luck, even if not many dared to point the finger towards their greatest manager of all time.

Yet, an expected twist in the tale proved that Ferguson might have had a point when he refused to bow to the demands of the then-teenager and his late agent Mino Raiola.

The Vacation Is Over

In their attempts to rectify their gaffe, Man Utd splashed a world-record fee to sign a player who had been on their books four years earlier. That’s modern football in a nutshell.

While the Juventus management was happy to collect the cash, the Bianconeri supporters were irked by Pogba’s comments. In his attempts to endear himself to the Red Devils faithful, the midfielder described his return to Old Trafford as a homecoming following a four-year “vacation”.

Nevertheless, this ill-advised analogy somewhat rang true. After all, most of us enjoy our happiest moments while on vacation, and this certainly appeared the case with Pogba who often sported a big smile during his time in Turin, whether he was scoring spectacular goals, lifting trophies, or even allegedly losing a basketball contest to Max Allegri.

On the contrary, the player’s smile gradually evaporated during his time at his acknowledged home in Carrington.

Pogba will be the first to staunchly defend his second Man Utd stint, enlisting the trophies won during his stay. However, that spell lasted for six years, so occasional joyous moments were bound to ensue. Yet, they were definitely too few and far between.

For the largest part, the midfielder’s stay at Manchester was largely disappointing. It is mostly remembered for the inevitable fallouts with José Mourinho, bashings from unsatisfied fans, and of course, the menacing injuries.

Although he famously won the 2018 World Cup during that stint, it only prompted more questions from the confused United supporters who were left to wonder why can’t the France international replicate the same brilliant displays at Old Trafford.

All in all, Ferguson arguably had it right: Pogba wasn’t meant to play for Man Utd, at least not during the club’s challenging times.

Another Second Coming

Following his underwhelming experience in England, perhaps Pogba should have realized that homecomings aren’t always as exciting as advertised.

But desperate to put his career back on track, the French star opted for a familiar move, one he pulled off exactly ten years earlier: A free transfer to Juventus.

Despite the great similarities between the two occasions, the striking contrasts were there to be seen.

With Marotta long gone from Juventus and Raiola no longer among us, it was Federico Cherubini and Rafaela Pimenta who shook hands while hoping to reproduce the success achieved by their respective predecessors.

As for the man himself, he landed in Turin with the same broad smile associated with his original stint in the Italian peninsula, pledging to regain his optimal form and delight the Allianz Stadium once more.

Pogba was certainly jubilant with his return. The smile wasn’t part of the act. However, deep down, he must have known that the boat had already passed, whether he wanted to admit it or not.

After all, there was little left of that young free spirit that first graced the Serie A pitches in 2012 with seemingly not a care in the world. By 2022, the cheerful boy had long gone, and the man who arrived at Juventus had been carrying with him MAJOR problems, and some were about to explode.

The Final Nail

From his meniscus injury and its chaotic treatment to the traumatizing extortion case that saw him threatened at gunpoint, one would hardly know where to start when illustrating the reasons that led to the demise of the World Cup winner and where the beginning of the end truly began.

On the contrary, it is comprehensively easier to identify the end of the agonizing cycle.

For many Juventus fans who waited nine months to see him make his first start of the season, watching the midfielder sustain his umpteenth injury just 20 minutes after kickoff against Cremonese felt like the genuine end of a star whose body was falling apart before our eyes.

At that point, the writing was certainly on the wall, as it had been for some time ago: Pogba was no longer able to cut it on the high level, as his body could no longer function as his great footballing mind intended… at least not without breaking apart.

But despite this brutal injury gauntlet, it wasn’t truly the final blow that slayed our hero’s spirit.

Kudos to Pogba for his great persistence, as he remained determined to overcome his plaguing physical issues and reintroduce himself as the Juventus protagonist he once was.

But if demoralizing injuries and haunting personal issues couldn’t do the trick, the cruel football gods resorted to an anti-doping test to serve as executioner and put the midfielder’s career out of its misery.

To this day, Pogba is still pleading his innocence, hoping to clear his name from this entire mess while pledging to appeal the harsh verdict.

However, the nails in the coffin are simply too many to even tease a potential resurrection.

Perhaps “The Octopus” will eventually make an appearance in the Saudi Pro League or a similar place once his lengthy ban expires – especially if he manages to deduct it – but even the midfielder’s biggest fan must admit that his career at the top level has well and truly vanished.

So in the end, this was the story of a career that was truly born at Juventus and was perhaps destined to dwindle under the watch of the despaired Old Lady.

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