Yesterday we ran a poll that sent ripples through the Managing Madrid stratosphere. The verdict was in: Even if the fans were almost split on whether they want Pogba or not, it was surprising that there was as many naysayers surrounding a potential Pogba signing as there was. Those opinions aren't wrong, but they're still surprising. After that poll, Tweeters were miffed, and the blood pressure in the Managing Madrid Slack group rose three-fold (more on this later).
Juventus are going to be handed a bulging transfer fee to part ways with their French star this summer, and Real Madrid may be the ones dishing out that fat cheque. But would he fit? It's hard to understand just where he would. You don't want to pass on players like Paul Pogba - they're a rare breed - but incorporating someone as good as him in an otherwise stacked position is complicated. Problems arise. This is not Golden State adding Kevin Durant - sacrificing Harrison Barnes in the process and shedding relatively insignificant assets to upgrade in a way that's unparalleled in NBA history. Durant is a natural upgrade, and more importantly, natural fit - a puzzle piece seamlessly embedding itself into the board. Pogba's arrival wouldn't be so straightforward. He is a Jenga block - a gamble that could either tip the tower or build the base of an incredibly young and talented spine, feared throughout the continent.
It's unclear whether Pogba's arrival would be more comparable to that of Zinedine Zidane's - the world's best player joining forces with the world's other best player, Luis Figo - or and par with David Beckham's. The latter's signing was superfluous, and Real Madrid then gave up much more than Harrison Barnes, they gave away Draymond Green - a reference unnecessary to explain.
Pogba could be somewhere in between. He's not Zidane, and, in theory, even if things go wrong, all that really happens is it forces Toni Kroos into a permanent anchoring role, and the team's ceiling shouldn't be any worse than Ancelotti's 2015 run that essentially relied on that idea.
As Pogba's jagged Euro 2016 run continues in an upward trajectory, the talk surrounding his inevitable departure waxes hotter and hotter. If he lands in Madrid, you now have arguably the three best central midfielders on the planet in Pogba, Modric, and Kroos. All three of them thrive in a system where defensive relief is present in an omnipresent anchor, and theoretically, from a footballing perspective, the anchor - who mends his midfield partners and relieves pressure - takes one spot, leaving two holes to fill. In theory, you now have three superstars fighting for two positions.
But 'in theory' is just a pipedream.
All three of those midfield dignitaries would be bristled in a bench role - they'd be miffed even in a scheme of rotations. Pogba is not coming to the Bernabeu at a price set north of €120 million to pivot around a shuffling axis. Ditto for the two established braniacs who've been twin-engined into this team's spine. It's Casemiro who loses here, along with Real Madrid's fiddled blueprint.
What was clear in Casemiro's emergence this season is that what he does is important. To take a page out of Germany's book who enabled Kroos to excel in an advanced role by slotting him in front of Khedira and Schweinsteiger in 2014, Zidane found that Casemiro could do something similar. But to be clear, Casemiro also has his limitations - he's laborious with the ball and positionally immature. He's fine against 80% of Real Madrid's opponents, and liable against the elite 20%. Ditto for Toni Kroos as the anchor. Kroos can look otherworldly as a defensive midfielder against teams like Manchester City who exude no pressure or show no desire to press, but he's still yet to prove he can play that role on a consistent basis against top teams. Against Italy in the Euro 2016 semifinal, Kroos was man-marked out of the match when Khedira left the pitch due to an injury in the first half, and overall has struggled there against teams with suffocative presses. Furthermore, against Atletico and Barcelona this season, he was uncomfortable, and his discomfort at that position dates back years, even if his intelligence and growth as a player masks it at times.
Casemiro's position could use an upgrade, that much is true, but, in my best Switch voice, I proclaim, 'not like this, not like this'. Pogba is a bona fide monster and superior player to Casemiro, and, de facto, most other players in the World. But it's not a stretch to claim he shouldn't be among the top two-three candidates Real Madrid should (have) prioritized to demote the Brazilian. Grezgorz Krychowiak, the mainstay of Sevilla's midfield and Messi-hunter extraordinaire, would've been the ideal player to sign before PSG stole him in exchange for peanut dustings, and Pogba's French associate, N'Golo Kante, should be next in line on Real Madrid's priority list.
Like Krychowiak, Kante would be - significantly - cheaper than Pogba, and price tag aside, would fit like a glove. While not a pure defensive midfielder, he's proven he can play that position more than adequately, is one of the best interceptors and counter-attack stiflers in world football, and more than capable of distributing the ball or even make darting runs forward, if need be.
Kante is the missing piece to the puzzle, would relieve Modric and Kroos in the midfield, and allow the team to groom some other promising players in those more advanced midfield positions. The team is currently sweating out a five-man juggling act in that spot. Mateo Kovacic, a highly gifted box-to-box midfielder, resides fifth in that depth chart behind a flourishing Isco who's thriving under Zidane's wing, and James Rodriguez who's coming off an encouraging Copa America campaign and is infested with semi-latent talent in his boots. It's a rotation that, already, could implode, and even if Pogba doesn't arrive, there's some extra 'fat' that needs to be shed there.
One recurring argument for Pogba's signing is that Real Madrid need to stockpile their squad before submerging themselves into a transfer ban that would last two windows - that Luka Modric isn't getting any younger, and that Pogba would be Luka's heir. Besides, Pogba won't be available in a few years - would he? Clutching. Modric's place in this lineup should remain snug for another three years at least. He's 30, still in his prime, and will probably be at a high level for a few more years - particularly if we're using how well Pirlo, Iniesta, and Xavi aged as precedent.
It's important to note that accumulating elite talent like Pogba is not disastrous, particularly if that's what Zidane wants. If he has an idea of how incorporating Pogba would improve this team, then there should be acceptance or faith that he'll make it work. And it would probably go a little something like this - Pogba and Modric pick teams apart with their dissective passing, ability to shoot from distance, and strength to dribble out of tight spaces. It would induce nightmares into opposing teams. Add Kroos into the mix, and this team is really cooking - and we haven't even gotten to the front three yet.
There would be enough playing time in the Copa Del Rey and home league games against Osasuna, Leganes, and Alaves for Casemiro to get playing time - with injuries and suspensions laced in between. He would be the acting first-choice off the bench now as a central or defensive midfielder for any of those aforementioned three maestros - pushing himself back while shifting the others forward. If Pogba arrives, Casemiro might actually be a winner - it squelches him less than the arrival of a pure DM.
For some, it's hard to see the downfall of signing someone as good as Pogba, or, at the very least, not get excited over the idea of a Kroos-Pogba-Modric trio. A lot of it will come back to how well Kroos can cope in big games where there won't be any chance of rotations. Both Pogba and Kroos are at their best when they have defensive-minded midfielders around them, but they won't both have that luxury. it will be Kroos who plays that role, as he boasts the most experience in it. Pogba can fill in occasionally, but having him at that position is an even more waste of his talents that it is of Kroos'.
We've witnessed plenty of magic from Paul Pogba over the years, and it's mostly been attack-oriented. He's a fantastic dribbler, shooter, and passer, and yes, he can make highlight-reel tackles and is physically imposing. But like Toni Kroos, he excels much more in an advanced role, and his talents would be wasted in an anchoring position. And, it's not just that he excels further up the pitch, it's that he's far from an ideal candidate to play as a defensive midfielder. In that respect, his versatility is misrepresented. Tactically, Pogba still hasn't developed fully, and his defensive skill-set is yet to be polished. All of those defensive shortcomings have been masked over the past few years by players like Pirlo, Marchisio, and Khedira. That aspect of his game is real - so keep your expectations in check. Pogba is not some kind of unicorn, he needs to be put in a position which takes advantage of his repertoire.
Nevertheless, even if not the ideal option, Pogba's physicality and elegance brings an interesting dimension, and Real Madrid would need to morph into a system where three elite box-to-box midfielders coexist in a scheme that not only relies on each other, but heavily relies on Toni Kroos holding his own in a deep position that could be somewhat interchangeable. It is not a sure path to building a great team, but it is a path, and the Kroos-Pogba-Modric band would be Zidane's brainchild. It's uncharted territory for any team in world football to have three of the best - if not the top three - central midfielders on the planet. It is extremely difficult to find something similar even when going down history. *Note: teams with an elite defensive midfielder are not included in this list.
That midfield would run teams off the pitch, ping passes around and sling attacks in a mind-numbing way. Again, 80%, or even 90% of teams it faces, will be sent dizzy. But it's those season-altering big matches - that 10% - that ultimately matter the most. Those are the ones the team needs to solidify itself defensively, and those are the matches where you might regret not locking up a Krychowiak or Kante.
Teams will be bullied, but not always. The front three of Barca and their movement in behind defenses, along with the passing ability of their midfield, would be a huge test for a three-CM midfield. In the Champions League final of 2015, Pogba was tasked with cutting off Messi's piercing runs with the ball which stemmed from the right flank. He also had Pirlo behind and around him as assurance. And though he wasn't disastrous, he overcommitted on several occassions and was forced to foul. And those are the moments the team will be tested. Again, it's that 10% - the crucial ones - that truly make or break your season. The team should be built around succeeding in those moments.
If Pogba arrives, this article may get rehashed, but there would still be plenty to delve into - namely the financial structure of the deal. Real Madrid would justify Pogba's price tag and salary, simply because Pogba represents exactly what Real Madrid want in a footballer - marketability and talent. He would do wonders for the Club's branding and commercial growth.
Tomorrow morning, we have a special treat for you. Remember that Slack reference from the first paragraph? We're going to make that public. While some of the staff are neutral on the potential Pogba signing or slightly leaning one way or the other, there are also some more intense opinions - either strongly against or strongly for it. Om will be publishing the conversation tomorrow morning, so get amped.