Ahead of Barcelona’s Champions League trip to Old Trafford, the Catalans’ president has admitted even they could not compete with Manchester United’s then world record offer to bring Paul Pogba back to England in 2016.
“We couldn’t afford that amount of money at the time,” Josep Maria Bartomeu told ESPN.
“So he went to United, and he’s making them better as a team because he’s one of the stars of the world of football right now.”
However, nearly three years on, United can feel they have still to receive sufficient bang for the bucks they paid to Juventus for Pogba in an £89 million ($116 million) transfer fee.
The French World Cup winner will start for just the second time in a Champions League knockout game for United today.
Benched for both legs of a bitterly disappointing last 16 exit to Sevilla last season by Jose Mourinho due to personal differences and poor performances, Pogba’s only previous start ended in a red card and a 2-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain back in February.
Without their suspended star, a youthful United side pulled off a miraculous 3-1 win in Paris to make it to the last eight for the first time in five years and give Pogba another chance to shine on the Champions League stage.
The arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to replace the sacked Mourinho in December removed any excuses that it was the Portuguese’s straitjacket that was limiting the output of one his most talented players.
An upturn in form was immediate. Pogba scored nine goals and created six more in his first 12 games under Solskjaer.
However, his form has cooled since, and not by coincidence so has United’s with three defeats in their last four games.