Victor Laszlow had just led the bar in a stunning, tearful rendition of La Marseillaise. The place is buzzing. Major Strasser, alarmed at the display, orders Captain Renault to close the establishment, leaving the police captain to utter one of Casablanca’s many immortal lines:
“But everyone is having such a good time!”
That’s how I felt as I first read that Paul Pogba had left training due to an injury a day after he was so impressive in his first game back in a Juventus shirt last week against Chivas. It’s the feeling that bounced around my brain every time a new report rocketed around the Twittersphere, each one adding heft to the snowball rolling down the hill. What was initially reported as an innocuous training knock suddenly turned into two months on the sidelines, which in turn suddenly transformed into the prospect of not seeing Pogba play a meaningful game for Juventus until 2023.
As the shock of such a crazy turn of events wears off, dejection is replaced with a bunch of questions, the most important of which is, what should the team do next?
A lot still depends on the final evaluation of Pogba’s knee.
If the injured meniscus is indeed as bad as the doomsayers in the media say it is, Pogba will then have a decision to make as to how he wants to handle it. He could either have the injured piece of cartilage removed, or he can have it repaired. The former would get him back on the field quicker, but could lead to even more problems down the road. The latter would likely result in a more stable joint, but would keep him out until the new year — and, critically, rule him out for France’s defense of their World Cup title in Qatar.
It’s a big question, to be sure. But as an observer, there is a large part of me that wonders why Juventus even let ourselves get into this mess in the first place. I, for one, had always been a little bit leery of Pogba’s recent injury history — one that over the last two years had been even worse than that of Paulo Dybala, the man he’s essentially replacing on the roster. There have been scattered reports suggesting that Pogba’s injury problems at Manchester United stemmed in large part from issues with his knee that compounded until the current tear finally formed.
We need to be clear that that’s not at all confirmed, BUT, if it is in fact the case, it raises a ton of additional questions. If Pogba’s knee was already unstable, how did Juve’s medical staff, which was overhauled and supposedly improved after the shocking number of injuries the team dealt with last season, miss that in his medical? If they did, that suggests a stunning level of incompetence. If they didn’t, then it indicates that the front office thought they could somehow ride it out, which suggests either arrogance, wishful thinking, or a bit too much focus on off-field matters, which, at least in my eyes, would deduct a few points from the ledger of the Maurizio Arrivabene/Federico Cherubini regime.
Regardless of how it ended up coming about, the fact is that it’s happened, and now the team is going to have to deal with the aftermath. Assuming the worst, and that Pogba is out for the medium- to long-term, how does the team go about replacing him?
We discussed this for a while in this week’s episode of The Old Lady Speaks, but that was before the prospect of Pogba being out until after the World Cup was a thing. At the time, the idea of riding this out with the midfielders on the squad was more plausible, but in the worst case scenario some more depth is going to be necessary. That could come in the form of keeping all three of the Miretti-Fagioli-Rovella triumvirate, with the potential to loan them out for playing time come January. It could also come from without. Leandro Paredes has been linked with a potential move to Turin all summer, and Radio Radio has reported that the club has approached Roma about the availability of another Frenchman, Jordan Veretout, who is surplus to requirements at Trigora.
How Juve decides to address the depth chart will also go a long way to seeing how Pogba’s spot in the starting XI is filled.
Going into the season, Pogba was one of two locks in the midfield, along with Manuel Locatelli. How the midfield lines up in his absence will depend on a couple of things. The presence of Adrien Rabiot is one of them. If he is on the roster for the first game of the season, he’s almost certainly going to be the starter on the left side of midfield. The only scenario where this wouldn’t be the case is if he’s held out pending an imminent transfer, which is entirely possible, as it looks as though his entourage has been trying to engineer a move away from Turin this summer. But if he’s a functional piece of the roster, Allegri’s track record with using him suggests he’d get the first crack, with Locatelli playing as regista and the right side manned by either Weston McKennie and Denis Zakaria.
The other variable comes with the potential acquisition of Paredes. Allegri seems dead set on using a traditional regista this season. If Paredes were to arrive, he would be the best fit for that role by quite a ways. That would kick Locatelli onto one of the flanking midfield position and leave the other to some combination of the remaining players.
There’s also the chaotic option of simply throwing caution to the wind and allowing Miretti, Fagioli, and Rovella to ball while Pogba is out. At least one of the three is likely headed out on loan — Rovella has multiple suitors at the moment — and Allegri’s dinosaur-ish views about young players almost certainly puts them behind the likes of McKennie, Zakaria, and Rabiot as a solution to the problem. But Pogba himself was allowed the room to break out and become the player he became after an injury to Claudio Marchisio opened up an opportunity. Fagioli and Rovella have both played well in preseason, and Miretti showed Allegri his quality right in front of his face at the end of last season. All of them are eminently capable of following in Pogba’s footsteps and proving themselves on the big stage. All it will take for one of them to do so is an opportunity.
But before all this clicks into place, we’ll need to know the basics: how bad, and how long? But, given the amount of money Pogba is being paid and his importance to the team, one certainly hopes that this isn’t the beginning of a depressing trend.