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Why Pogba will finally replace Scholes in Man United midfield

SoccerBy Ken Lawrence
Pogba during his first stint at Old Trafford
Pogba during his first stint at Old Trafford

PAUL POGBA is expected to complete his £105m move to Manchester United by next weekend to end the transfer saga of the summer.

The Frenchman’s return to Old Trafford – four years after Alex Ferguson inexplicably allowed him to head to Juventus for nothing – will also end a much, much longer story.

For finally, after a decade of searching, the new Paul Scholes has been found.

The fact that United actually had the successor to the legendary attacking midfielder known as the Ginger Prince, then let him go after Ferguson fell out with him over his wage demands – and are now paying a world-record fee to get him back – will be of huge embarrassment to the Scotsman.

Then again, when it came to replacing the genius playmaker who spent most of his 20-year career conducting the Theatre of Dreams orchestra, Fergie got it wrong time after time.

At first, when he would talk about the man who would succeed Scholes, it was considered a compliment. 

But in the end such comparisons turned into a curse.

Pogba, at least, has the proven class and quality to consign the poisoned chalice to the dustbin.

He is the most talented young midfielder in the world and one reason Jose Mourinho and United went for him so hard is that they believe he will not only be the new Scholes, but succeed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the globe’s greatest player.

Corporate and shirt sales-wise, down the line he could end up being worth ten-times what the club are paying for him.

Previous players tagged as Scholes-alikes, however, proved worthless as Ferguson poured money down the drain trying to find the new version.

Take Anderson. He arrived from Porto for £25.7m – a huge fee for someone so lacking in experience back in 2007.

But he was Brazilian and he could see a pass. So Ferguson happily talked him up.

Scholes, of course, was very much still around then but he was in the autumn of his career and the United manager was being pro-active. He was thinking ahead.

Except Anderson was a dud. He had problems with his weight, he had no problems eating kebabs.

He made just 189 appearances in eight seasons and, of the 123 games he started, he was subbed 75 times, scoring a mere nine goals.

United only got rid of him 18 months ago because his contract expired. He knew he would never get another one like it anywhere else. 

Ferguson also raved about Nick Powell when he brought him in from Crewe for £3m.

Ironically he was purchased to replace the departed Pogba but his new boss, still looking for a goal-scoring midfielder to become a Scholes-style legend, talked him up far higher.

Powell could not lace the boots of either of them and played a total of just 358 minutes for United, having been loaned out to Wigan, Hull City and Leicester.

Insiders complained that he was lazy and had a bad attitude and he even describes himself as slothful. He is now at Wigan full time.

The list of so-called successors goes on and on.

Shinji Kagawa, signed for £18m at the same time as Powell arrived, was also seen as a possibility – as was home-grown Tom Cleverley.

Ferguson spent three seasons trying to sign Wesley Sneijder from Inter Milan to fill the void.

But it was not only he who had a fixation about the whole thing.

David Moyes, after taking over from his fellow countryman, went for Toni Kroos, openly discussing how he could take on Scholes’s mantle.

But the German remained at Bayern Munich for another year before joining Real Madrid for £24m.

Scholes’s former team-mate Peter Schmeichel also joined the debate this summer as Wayne Rooney was deployed in a deep-lying role for England during Roy Hodgson’s damned finals campaign.

The goalkeeping great said: “I love Rooney in midfield. I’ve said this on many occasions.

“He could be the key and the  difference between success and failure for England, he’s so important.

“Rooney can play the same role as Scholes used to play, he’s developed the engine to get up and down and is getting better and better.

“To have someone with his ball skills, his vision in the game, to run the game, he sees stuff that no-one else sees.”

So much for that. England failed miserably and Mourinho has made it clear from the get-go that the United captain will be deployed as a striker.

Ander Herrera has had the comparison, too. Wisely he has played it down hard.

He declares: “I feel very proud when someone says that I can play like Paul Scholes but I don’t think so… I am Ander Herrera.

“I am not as good as him but I will try to do everything for this club.

“I can learn a lot from him. The way he passed the ball across long spaces, the high ball speed he always used to give so he’s one of United’s best players in history.

“But a new Paul Scholes? No.”

The debate, finally, will end when Pogba signs – which is likely to be in the days after United arrive back from their pre-season trip to China, where they lost 4-1 to Borussia Dortmund on Friday.

Mourinho is still very much putting the pieces of his new reign together.

The missing link, however, has finally been found. 

He just happens to be costing more money than any other player in history.

Oops.