In-demand Pogba is the one that got away from Ferguson and Man United
Former Manchester United defender Gordon McQueen said there was only one way for a footballer to go after leaving Old Trafford: down. He was talking from experience and countless players would agree, but it's not always true.
Cristiano Ronaldo didn't think that he made a step down when he left for Real Madrid in 2009 and nor had Gerard Pique a year earlier when he joined Barcelona. Likewise, Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba is convinced that he made the correct decision when, in 2012, he swapped Old Trafford for Turin.
Now 23, Pogba left United after being given little chance to play the first-team football he felt he deserved. Upon joining Juventus he immediately established himself and has won Serie A every season since.
Pogba's value has risen to a level where he's currently considered the most expensive "gettable" footballer on the planet; Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Ronaldo are simply not for sale.
Juventus also insist Pogba is not available either and their players understand that the French midfielder isn't leaving the club, where he has been offered him a new contract. He's happy in Turin and with teammates, who seriously think they can win both the Italian title and the Champions League next season.
But money talks. Pogba is being strongly linked with a £100 million move back to United, which could triple his wages. (The fee was equivalent to €132 million before Britain voted to leave the European Union; now it's €117 million, which would still be enough to make him the most expensive player in football history.)
Yet aside from not making the first team, Pogba was actually happy at United.
"Paul was very popular," explains Paul McGuinness, a respected coach at United for 23 years until recently. "He was like the Pied Piper with the younger lads who looked up to him. We worked with all the players on positional play. With Paul, it meant understanding the demands of his role in technical, tactical and team sessions. They were the staple diet of training."
But that wasn't all; United could see that Pogba had been a street footballer.
"We encouraged the development of creative skills throughout and used 'playground' sessions once or twice a week to target the development of timing, disguise and creative skills," explains McGuinness. "The likes of Pogba, [Adnan] Januzaj, [Jesse] Lingard and [Marcus] Rashford are showing them now. Paul had played in cages in France, which hone your skill. We'd like to think that we let him develop at United by letting him play freely, like he was in a playground."
While much youth coaching in English is regimented, McGuinness felt it would hamper Pogba's game if his style was constricted. Coaches encouraged a playful environment once or twice a week. They'd get a cup of tea while the training game was on and then stand watching it, chatting informally.
"Rather than having a coach barking orders at them, it relaxed the players who were not afraid of making mistakes," explains McGuinness, who is now available to work again. "Paul could carry on practising that flick he does over the head of a rival which you still see in his game. We also had sessions which were strong on tactics and Paul was involved in a more structured environment when he trained with the first team, but we felt our approach helped him develop the qualities he'd started developing as a street footballer."
Pogba was a star in McGuinness's youth team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 alongside Lingard, Ravel Morrison, Sam Johnstone and the Keane brothers, Michael and Will. The young Frenchman felt he was ready to move up but Sir Ferguson thought otherwise.
Pogba believed he should have figured on Dec. 31, 2011 -- Ferguson's 70th birthday -- against Blackburn. Paul Scholes had retired, Darren Fletcher was injured and three players -- Wayne Rooney, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson - had been left out for disciplinary reasons after a night out.
Also lacking three injured central defenders, Ferguson played Michael Carrick in his back four and selected a central-midfield partnership of Rafael da Silva, a right-back, and Park Ji-sung. With Pogba an unused substitute, United lost 3-2 to bottom of the table opponents.
"It was a very, very difficult moment for me because I was in love with Manchester and I was a Mancunian," said Pogba. He was and is still friends with his old youth team colleagues. Pogba was out of contract in June 2012. United didn't want him to go and offered him a deal worth £20,000 a week. It would have made him the highest-paid player outside the regular first teamers, on a salary far in excess of his regular teammates in the reserves.
Even though family members were of the opinion that United was the best place for Pogba, the player and his new agent Mino Raiola were not satisfied with the offer as interest grew from several European clubs.
They looked at Pogba's record of being a Clairefontaine academy graduate, who had captained France at four different age groups, and a United player since 2009 after joining in controversial circumstances from Le Havre.
Pogba was told to bide his time but, like every young player, he was impatient to play. Pique and Giuseppe Rossi, two former United players who also arrived as highly-hyped youngsters and only fulfilled their promise after leaving Old Trafford following limited opportunities, might have sympathised with his plight.
When Pogba decided to leave United, the club realised he wasn't bluffing and offered him almost exactly the same terms as Juventus. The stumbling block was a reluctance to pay high agents' fees, issues that the Italian club did not have.
Ferguson lost patience when the contract offer remained unsigned. Pogba was not included in United's squad for a Europa League game at home to Ajax in February 2012. He was told to train alone and, although he made three appearances as a substitute after that, eventually moved to Italy.
Within months, his new teammate Gianluigi Buffon said: "Pogba is one of those players who leaves you speechless. After only three or four training sessions we were impressed. My teammates looked at each other, as if to say: 'Are they blind in Manchester?'"
Ferguson was one of the greatest managers in football history, but he got it badly wrong with Pogba, who played just seven times for United as a substitute. David Moyes then tried to sign the player in the summer of 2013, but Juventus held onto their man, who has now played four full seasons in Turin. They hope there will be a fifth. Football suspects otherwise.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.