The early lesson, loud and clear, from this summer’s transfer market, is that to go back to a previous employer is a step that needs careful thought. Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United, whom he rejoined last summer. Romelu Lukaku is curtailing his second spell at Chelsea after a single season back in London as their costly centre-forward.
Lukaku hopes that another back-to-the-future move, to the Inter Milan where he thrived up until 2021, will respark his career, and Inter have faith that Lukaku, rejoining them on loan, can make them Italian champions again.
Some of the same impulse drives Juventus, who are putting together the final stage directions for a second unveiling of Paul Pogba, a footballer whose career trajectory is becoming almost as famous for its boldly executed returns as Novak Djokovic’s forehand.
Pogba is to rejoin Juventus a decade after he first signed for them as a teenager, and will do so again having quit Manchester United, the club who paid what was, in the summer of 2016, a world record €105 million for a midfielder who left them for free to move to Turin four years earlier.
The imbalance of fees exchanged between the clubs – Juve will have captured Pogba twice as an out-of-contract free agent – hardly flatters United, who look back on their two Pogba episodes with mixed feelings.
Although they were astute in spotting him as a teenager and aggressive in initially luring him from Le Havre, their yield from what should have been his peak years was less than anticipated.
The closest he came to winning a Premier League title was as a 19-year-old, then on the fringes of the United first-team, when United missed out to Manchester City on the last day of the dramatic 2011-12 season, by which time he was already committed to his first Juventus move.
In the six years after rejoining United, he would collect two more Premier League silver medals, a Europa League and League Cup but was part of a side that twice finished outside the top four.
Juventus, unlike United, can offer Champions League football in the coming season. Yet with the expectant hype Juve will generate around the return of Pogba, there is pressure. Greater consistency and leadership will be demanded of him. He turns 30 in March, and will by then have had a senior role in France’s attempt to defend their World Cup crown.
Juve urgently want him to be driving a bid to regain the Serie A title that was routine for Juventus in his previous spell there, and to push the club back to the sort of status in Europe that they had in 2015 and 2017, when they reached Champions League finals.
“Can’t wait,” posted Pogba last week as he trained, awaiting his official confirmation as a Juve player. He knows he will have a warm welcome from several old allies.
Max Allegri, who coincided with Pogba as Juventus manager for two seasons, is embarking on the second season of his second spell in charge. Leo Bonucci, a teammate from 2012 to 2016, is deep into his second stint at Juve and will captain the club in the campaign ahead. That’s two men who, like Pogba, have left and come back, tribute to the magnetism of Italy’s most serially successful domestic club.
Serie A top scorers 2021/22
But there is also upheaval. Age has ushered Giorgio Chiellini, 37, to the MLS, and his fellow central defender Matthijs de Ligt, still just 22, is the target of sustained interest from Chelsea.
Pogba’s good friend Paulo Dybala is seeking a new employer after his Juve contract was not renewed. Dybala’s creative influence is likely to be partly replaced by Angel di Maria, who has left Paris Saint-Germain. The Argentinian, 34, is out of contract and, like Pogba, his signing would be regarded as another coup in Juve’s proud tradition of recruiting stars via ‘free’ transfers.
They have also spent heavily in 2022, the January swoop for Dusan Vlahovic, at up to €90m from Fiorentina, the first part of what will be major facelift at a club who have finished fourth in Serie A in the last two seasons; that slip in standards follows nine successive Italian titles.
Vlahovic, 22, scored nine times in his first half-season at Juve and Allegri described the centre-forward as “still adjusting”. The coach is optimistic that with Pogba, Di Maria and a fit Federico Chiesa – injury ended the winger’s season in January – Vlahovic will quickly benefit from first-class service into the opposition penalty area.
There are plans for further strengthening in attacking midfield, too, with Roma’s €40m Nicolo Zaniolo being actively pursued by an bullish, ambitious Juventus.