Paul Pogba: Is this the end?

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Paul Pogba walked straight down the tunnel at the Castellani last September.

His Juventus team-mates wanted him to come and celebrate a 2-0 win against Empoli with the away fans, but the Frenchman was anxious. A twinge in his thigh made him fear the worst. Ever since he tore the meniscus in his left knee while on tour in the United States in 2022, the muscles around it seemed to overcompensate and strain. He needed to get checked out.

It was a sorry sight — the last anyone saw of Pogba on a football pitch.

No one anticipated at the time the World Cup winner might never play again. A week later, the news came through that Pogba had given an adverse analytical finding in an anti-doping control sample after Juventus’ season opener in Udine, a game in which he warmed the bench.


Pogba on the ball against Empoli – potentially his last appearance on a football field (Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Non-endogenous metabolites were detected in his sample, a violation of articles 2.1 and 2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code on the presence of a banned substance and the use or attempted use of one. The substance in question was DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone).

Provisionally suspended, Pogba could no longer rehab the injury he sustained in Empoli or work out with his team-mates at Juventus’ training facility pending the outcome of his case. In October, the B sample requested by his legal team confirmed the original result. Formally, the adverse analytical finding became a positive.

Pierfilippo Laviani, the Anti Doping Tribunal’s chief prosecutor, opened an investigation which concluded in December. His recommendation was a four-year ban. Pogba has always maintained he “never knowingly or deliberately” took supplements that violate anti-doping regulations. His legal team did not enter a plea bargain which could, in the event of acceptance, have led to a more lenient halved suspension of two years.

Past precedent showed the UFC fighter Bobby Green received a shorter ban after returning a positive test for DHEA. Green didn’t realise the substance was banned because it was easy to obtain. His wife had bought it over the counter at Walmart. His cooperation and the low degree of performance enhancement led to a six-month suspension.

But in Pogba’s case, the Anti Doping Tribunal (NADO) found in favour of Laviani.

The severity of Thursday’s judgment deeply shocked Pogba. He turns 31 in a fortnight. As it stands, he won’t play again until he’s 35 when many a footballer’s career is over. Pogba called the decision “incorrect” and described himself as “sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built in my professional career has been taken away from me”.

NADO has 30 days to provide the written reasons for its judgment. The Pogba camp then has 20 days to study them and prepare an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne. Pogba has already stated his intention to fight the decision.

“I have never thought, not for one moment, that Paul had the intention or the desire to dope,” a saddened France coach Didier Deschamps said. “Paul has been going through an extremely tough time for months, tough like the sentence and I obviously can’t be indifferent given the relationship we’ve built with the national team.”

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Pogba holds the 2018 World Cup trophy (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

In an Instagram post, his agent Rafaela Pimenta called him “the one who never gives up. Who stands tall no matter what. Wise beyond his years, clean to the soul. Through thick and thin”.

Pogba’s wife, Zulay, insisted: “The truth will always prevail, stay strong like always mi rey.”

Some of his Juventus team-mates have rallied around him. Pogba continues to reside in Turin. Upon his return to the city from Manchester United, he took the villa vacated by Cristiano Ronaldo overlooking piazza Vittorio Veneto.

Juventus did not issue a statement. The club’s football director Cristiano Giuntoli said in December: “We await the final judgement.” While NADO has ruled on it in Italy, the appeal process will only be exhausted once CAS has heard Pogba’s case. If it is expedited, a definitive decision could come within four months. If not, a longer wait is expected.

As provided for by the collective bargaining agreement struck by the clubs and Italy’s Players’ Association (AIC), Juventus have placed Pogba, their highest earner along with Dusan Vlahovic, on minimum wage until the case is resolved.

If CAS uphold NADO’s decision, they are within their rights to sack Pogba. His contract runs until 2026 and a termination would save the club tens of millions. In parallel with the appeal process, Juventus are unlikely to act until the summer for tax purposes.

When Pogba signed on a free transfer in 2022, club and player alike were beneficiaries of the Decreto Crescita tax break. A player needs to domicile in Italy for two years in order for it to be effective otherwise the tax saving has to be paid back to the revenue.

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Pogba won’t have been back in Italy for two years until July.

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Pogba during a cameo as a substitute against Bologna in August (Stefano Guidi/Getty Images)

When the B sample came back positive in October, Juventus’ coach, Max Allegri, said: “From a personal point of view, I’m very close to Paul. Football loses a player unlike any other. We hope for the best also because it’s going to be hard on a mental level.”

Regardless of the apparent carelessness of ingesting a substance without realising it was banned, it is hard not to feel some compassion for Pogba.

Annus horribilis has followed annus horribilis. He was subject to an alleged extortion attempt which led to the arrest of five people, including his brother Matthias who was subsequently released.

“Money changes people,” Pogba told Al Jazeera. “It can break up a family. It can create a war. Sometimes I was just by myself thinking: ‘I don’t want to have money anymore. I just don’t want to play anymore. I just want to be with normal people, so they will love me for me — not for the fame, not for the money’. Sometimes it’s tough.”

A toll has been taken.

His long-time agent Mino Raiola passed away in April 2022. Injuries have kept him away from football, isolated. Pogba’s decision not to undergo surgery after his meniscus tear in the summer of 2022 was an error of judgement. He later changed his mind, but it was too late to recover in time for the World Cup in Qatar where France were due to defend their title.

Pogba then drew the ire of Juventus fans by posting a photo of him at a ski resort during his rehabilitation from the meniscus tear and there was disappointment when he was dropped for showing up late to the team get-together before the Europa League last-16 tie with Freiburg this time last year.

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Pogba holds off team-mate Weston McKennie in Juventus training last August (Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images)

Overall, Pogba has played 213 minutes in a year and a half. If the ban is upheld, by the time he becomes eligible to play again, he won’t have played regularly for almost six years.

Some will call it a tremendous waste of talent. Others will counter that Pogba achieved more by the age of 31 than most footballers could ever dream of. Right now, it is of scant consolation.

“When I am free of legal restrictions, the full story will become clear,” Pogba said. Only then will he be able to argue the career that “has been taken away from me” hasn’t been thrown away.

(Top photo: Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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