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Does the Juventus-Pogba relationship still make sense?

Paul Pogba’s lack of availability for Juventus is becoming a problem.

Juventus Press Conference And Training Session Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

If, last summer in the hot desert of Las Vegas, as the Bianconeri were preparing to face off Chivas de Guadalajara, I had told you that by mid-March of 2023 a youngster by the name of Enzo Barrenechea would have played more minutes than Paul Pogba, you probably would’ve told me I’m crazy.

Even with Pogba’s substantial injury record, even with the abysmal luck Juventus have suffered in the J-Medical arena, even with the progress of the youth in the ranks, I don’t think there’s a single person who would’ve thought this level of failure on the Pogba gamble could’ve possibly transpired. Yet here we are.

I love Paul Pogba.

I really do.

When he’s on the pitch fully fit and playing free, he’s one of the best on the planet. But right now, with a dwindling number of games left on the slate in all competitions for the 2022-23 season, and given the fact that Pogba has made all of two competitive appearances for Juventus, we need to talk about whether this experiment is worth continuing.

I thought we were done with gambling

Juventus have a mixed relationship with “free” transfers, and the club should’ve learned by now that “free” of course doesn’t mean “free” and often doesn’t even mean “cheap.” There’s obviously a long list of successes in the club’s history of free transfers, but let’s be real: the recent track record does not look particularly good.

Of all the failure cases of the past several years — Aaron Ramsey, Leandro Paredes (welcome!) — Pogba 2.0, bearing in mind that there is still time to turn the narrative on its head, is the worst by just the sheer little he has contributed, judged against the fat salary he’s earning. Hilariously, unless things change drastically and quickly, Pogba might go down as both the best and worst free transfer in the illustrious history of Juventus.

The thing that the pessimists were worried about — I’m not saying I was one of these clairvoyant folks — was, of course, Pogba’s injury record. The same worry existed with Ramsey, who also, to a lesser extent, offered the same unfulfilled hope: a creative midfielder who could begin to unlock the lines and make the unit more capable in creating chances. As you know, things did not work out with Ramsey.

With the development of some of the young midfielders in-house, the club have been dealt a different hand than even a couple seasons ago, and I wonder how that might influence their direction with Pogba.

How good can the youngsters get?

I will confess something to you: before not too long ago, I had no idea who Barrenechea was. I am many things, but I am not an avid, meticulous follower of the Juventus youth project. It turns out I didn’t need to be.

This year, amongst all the disappointment of Pogba, the points deduction, the Champions League exit, and a series of other smaller disappointments — Dušan Vlahović to an extent, Paredes, the very obviously dwindling careers of Juan Cuadrado and Leonardo Bonucci — the blossoming and palpable, pragmatic contributions of the young players has been absolutely awesome to see. As we’ve noted a few times recently, none of these kids, and they’re literally kids still at this point, has reached the level of consistency needed to be called a top player, but they’re starting to scratch the surface.

I’m pretty optimistic about this young group. Barrenechea is 21, Nicolo Fagioli is 22, Fabio Miretti is 19, Samuel Iling-Junior is 19, and Matias Soulé is 19. That’s a lot of kids with not a lot of years and a solid amount of contribution to the campaign so far. If it were possible to take Pogba’s salary off the table next year and invest it elsewhere, could that be an advisable course of action to allow this group to continue to develop?

Juventus v UC Sampdoria - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

The dead weight club

Entering a financial state of affairs in which the word “austerity” will loom behind every decision that is made, Juventus are currently carrying a significant amount of dead weight. The club’s top earners do not currently equate to the club’s top contributors; that’s what I mean by “dead weight.” Bonucci is high on the list, and his struggles with injuries this year do little to mask the deterioration of his usefulness at the back. Vlahović, likewise, has struggled with injury, and although I think he gets the short end of the stick it’s still a big salary for a small number of goals. Both Cuadrado and Alex Sandro are playing roles with some degree of dependability, at least more than Bonucci, but they fit into that “you’re retiring soon” category.

Right now, Pogba fits into this group.

Like Sergio mentioned recently, I sympathize greatly with Pogba, who attempted to be physically ready for the World Cup. Surgery was delayed, and a number of setbacks have ensued. At the end of the day, calculating culpability — which seems to be a favorite pastime for many fans — is both unfair and unrealistic.

From my perspective, though, right now it doesn’t matter whose fault is what: Pogba is earning a big salary, and he’s not playing. It’s fair to ask the question whether this relationship should continue; even if we see the Frenchman return before this campaign is over, imagining him healthy for 75 percent or more of next season requires a glass-half-full kind of disposition.

Here’s the kicker, of course: the Juventus midfield, even with the impressive growth of the youngsters, is in desperate need of someone like Paul Pogba. The midfield needs that kind of flair, that kind of creativity that can cut through lines of defenders, the kind of player who can see things not every midfielder can. It would likewise take a sunny disposition to imagine one of the youngsters in the fold leveling up to such a degree as to become that guy as soon as next year.

The net result: the Juventus midfield is, once again, between a rock and a hard place.