Manchester United would become title favourites if they signed Paul Pogba
Manchester United are still chasing a potential world-record transfer for Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, with executive vice chairman Ed Woodward reportedly staying behind from the club's preseason tour in China to thrash out a deal for the Frenchman.
The potential deal has been mooted for months, but it may finally be reaching its conclusion. It is expected to cost around £100 million for United to get their man, but what would Pogba's return to Old Trafford signify beyond that?
United would finally land their galactico
This is Woodward's fourth summer in charge of transfers at Old Trafford. Since 2013, he has gained a mixed reputation for his dealings, with failed signings such as Angel Di Maria (£59.7 million) and Radamel Falcao (a loan that reportedly cost the club around £16m) going against his name; both players turned out to be poor choices for a club aspiring to reclaim its place at football's top table.
"We as a club should be aspiring to have the best players playing for us," Woodward said in an interview with the "United We Stand" fan zine during that first summer. After all, star names maximise marketing and merchandising opportunities.
Barcelona superstar Neymar has been a fixture in United gossip columns, while Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo has been consistently linked with a return to Manchester, and the club also reportedly put in a £100m bid for Tottenham's Gareth Bale in August 2013 before he moved to Madrid.
Since 2001, when Sir Alex Ferguson signed Juan Sebastian Veron from Lazio for £28.1m, United have failed to land that one major name. Pogba, though, is regarded as one of the world's best midfielders -- a player coveted by all others. It would be a huge move for the club.
It would be another break with Ferguson's legacy
The loss of a 19-year-old Pogba to Juventus for a nominal fee in the summer of 2012 was an unwelcome mark on Ferguson's legacy when the manager retired the next year. Pogba had been at United since he was 16 but revealed that he decided to leave once the 38-year-old Paul Scholes -- brought out of retirement that January -- was preferred to him in the first team.
Ferguson, in his book "Leading," blamed Pogba's agent Mino Raiola for the breakdown in talks. "'He and I were like oil and water," he wrote, but Raiola, who also represents Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan -- two signings already made by United this summer -- now has his feet under the Old Trafford table.
That represents another lessening of Ferguson's influence within the club. Ferguson's reported resistance to Jose Mourinho's appointment as manager made no difference in the end, and Pogba's return would further represent United's moving on from the Scot's 26-year tenure.
Mourinho's men would become title favourites
Next season's Premier League title race looks open: Champions Leicester have lost N'Golo Kante to Chelsea, with reports that Riyad Mahrez may also leave soon; Chelsea and Manchester City have new managers in Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, respectively, both fresh faces without experience in English football; Arsenal are, well, Arsenal.
Mourinho has the knowledge and experience, and if Pogba is added, he just might have the best squad around. With David De Gea in goal, new signing Eric Bailly to perhaps play alongside Chris Smalling in central defence, and Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic added to an attacking unit already featuring the talents of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Wayne Rooney, the addition of Pogba's platinum-grade dynamism would make United a fearsome proposition.
With over £300m spent since Ferguson's departure, United have never lacked talent, even if they often looked like that during the disappointing respective tenures of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. Pogba can lift them back to challenging for the title.
It would show how only a unique few can compete for stars
Zinedine Zidane has not hidden his admiration for compatriot Pogba. "Do I like Pogba?" Real Madrid's coach said on Monday. "Of course, he's a very good player, and every club wants the best players."
And yet Real's interest in Pogba is stymied by an inability to meet the asking price. Attention has been turned elsewhere, with Portugal's Andre Gomes, who could cost €65m from Valencia, a cheaper option. Barcelona, who had an €80m offer for Pogba rejected last summer, have not entered the bidding; neither have Bayern Munich, having bought Renato Sanches in May.
Paris Saint-Germain, one of the only clubs that can compete on a financial level for Pogba, have not made a move, and other English clubs have stayed silent, too. With £8.3 billion of TV revenue filling Premier League coffers over the next three seasons, English clubs are where super agents like Raiola and Jorge Mendes are taking their business, but Manchester City and Chelsea, as with Real, seem unwilling to enter the Pogba bidding at such a level.
£100m would be a normal fee for a star player of potential
Ferguson used to talk of "no value in the market," usually when closing off his transfer business in a window. These days, he would look at the fees that some players have commanded and wince. Sadio Mane cost Liverpool £35m from Southampton, while Arsenal paid slightly less to Borussia Monchengladbach for midfielder Granit Xhaka. Chelsea paid Marseille £33m for Michy Batshuayi, while their signing of Kante for £30m has widely been hailed as a bargain.
Bayern paid Benfica €35m as a down payment in a deal for Sanches that may end up costing them as much as €80m with add-ons -- a suggestion of the inflated fees that leading talents now command.
In 2001, a 29-year-old Zidane was sold to Real for a then-record £46m by Juventus. That was sky-high in comparison to other deals done at that time but, just three years after Bale was sold for £86m, £100m for Pogba would not seem anything near as outlandish, given that he is hugely marketable. And at 23, his peak is yet to come.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.