On a hot July evening in 2022, a pleasant shiver went down the spine of the Juventus half of Turin. Six years after departing for Manchester United, Paul Pogba announced his return to the city.
For supporters, the so-called ‘Pogback’ represented the return to a happy past – to the iconic team which won four domestic titles in a row and reached two Champions League finals in 2015 and 2017. The Frenchman starred in the first one, completing a marvellous midfield setup with Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal.
The following day, fans descended on the JMedical centre to welcome Pogba and fellow new arrival, 34-year-old Angel di Maria.
The restoration was complete: boss Massimiliano Allegri and midfielder Pogba would take the club back to European glory, a feat that even Cristiano Ronaldo failed to accomplish.
Despite some daring to say players of that magnitude and age would only come to Juventus to train for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, the sun shone bright on Turin, not just metaphorically.
President Andrea Agnelli was still at the helm, Juventus were flexing their muscles after missing out on consecutive Serie A titles to the Milan clubs, and fans longed for trophies.
Fast forward 12 months and little is left of the ambitions of that summer day.
An uphill race to start with
Pogba’s return was a catastrophe from the off.
He injured his right knee two weeks after arriving on a pre-season tour of the USA. Despite being advised to have surgery, in the hope of making the World Cup he instead opted for a non-invasive treatment plan.
It proved a failure. The necessary surgery in September forced him to miss out on Qatar and watch his France team-mates lose the final to Argentina from the stands.
A further muscle strain kept him out until 28 February, when he made his return as a substitute in the Turin derby.
After returning to fitness, he enjoyed encouraging cameos against Atalanta in Serie A and Sevilla in the Europa League in May, and was finally ready to savour a starting spot – 390 days after last doing so in Manchester United’s 4-0 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield on 19 April 2022.
When Juventus faced Cremonese on 14 May at Allianz Stadium, it was a night that was meant to help Pogba put the months of trouble behind him.
The stadium serenaded his return, he nodded and winked at his team-mates while warming up, the fans roared as his name was read out.
The ‘Pogback’ lasts just 24 minutes
After just 24 minutes, a grimace of pain was followed by incredulity etched across Pogba’s face – tears ran down his cheeks as he walked off.
The whole stadium was stunned – fans could not believe what they were seeing. They had an affinity with him; they welcomed Pogba as an unknown youngster who matured and won titles, left as a star and returned as a world champion.
Nine months after being mobbed at Juve’s medical centre, he was back there without the strength to take selfies. The diagnosis was a low-grade lesion of the rectus femoris muscle and the end of his season.
“Paul is a man, he has broad shoulders and we wait for him,” Allegri said after the game.
The ‘Pogback’ amounted to 108 minutes over six Serie A games, three matches and one assist in the Europa League, and 11 minutes in the Coppa Italia – a total of 161 minutes and no goals.
With the highest wage of all Juve players, Pogba has cost the club about £56,000 per minute this season.
“We won’t drop him. We wait for him and we do believe in him, otherwise we wouldn’t have given him a four-year contract,” Juventus’ chief football officer Francesco Calvo said a few months ago.
Can it get any better soon?
There has been talk among fans that Pogba should voluntarily lower his wages. However, despite trying to avoid surgery last summer, he was unlucky with his injuries.
In fact, he has spoken recently about how he feels many of his physical problems stemmed from how he was feeling mentally.
“When you are not well in the head, the body follows,” the 30-year-old told French magazine Views.
“I was stressed, my body was tense. And I wanted so much to come back quickly, to play and show people, to shut everyone up a bit.”
Pogba’s injury problems go back further than the past year – in his six seasons with Manchester United he missed more than 100 games.
But his immediate future appears to be at Juventus. Which club would gamble on him now and pay his sizeable wages?
With Pogba’s contract running out on 30 June 2026, the only realistic thing to do is to look forward, try to forget what happened and restart afresh.
However, there is a feeling too many things have happened since he left Juventus in 2016 – two operations on his right ankle and knee, his brother being investigated over an alleged plot to extort money from him, and his frustrating series of injuries and short comebacks.
What Pogba needs is a complete reset, physically and mentally, but what remains in the minds of Juventus fans is those tears against Cremonese and whether a full recovery is possible.