1709297667 Paul Pogba Is this the end

Paul Pogba: Is this the end?

Paul Pogba went straight through the tunnel at the Castellani last September.

His Juventus teammates wanted him to come and celebrate a 2-0 win against Empoli with the away fans, but the Frenchman was worried. A twinge in his thigh made him fear the worst. Since he tore the meniscus in his left knee during a tour of the United States in 2022, it seemed as if the muscles around him were overcompensating and overloading. He had to be examined.

It was a sad sight – the last time anyone would see Pogba on a football pitch.

Back then, no one expected that the world champion would never play again. A week later came news that Pogba had returned a negative analytical result in an anti-doping control test after Juventus' season opener in Udine, a game in which he was on the bench.

Paul Pogba Is this the end

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

Non-endogenous metabolites were detected in his sample, in violation of Articles 2.1 and 2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code on the presence of a prohibited substance and its use or attempted use. The substance was DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).

Pogba was provisionally suspended and unable to rehabilitate the injury he sustained at Empoli or train with his teammates at the Juventus training center until his case is decided. In October, the B sample requested by his legal team confirmed the original result. Formally, the unfavorable analysis result became a positive one.

Pierfilippo Laviani, the anti-doping tribunal's chief prosecutor, opened an investigation that concluded in December. His recommendation was a four-year ban. Pogba has always maintained he has “never knowingly or intentionally” taken supplements that violated anti-doping rules. His legal team did not enter into an agreement which, if accepted, could have resulted in a more lenient ban of half two years.

Previous precedent showed UFC fighter Bobby Green receiving a shorter suspension after receiving a positive DHEA test. Green didn't know the substance was banned because it was easy to get. His wife bought it over the counter at Walmart. His cooperation and the slight improvement in performance led to a six-month ban.

But in Pogba's case, the Anti-Doping Tribunal (NADO) ruled in favor of Laviani.

The severity of Thursday's verdict shocked Pogba deeply. He turns 31 in two weeks. It looks like he won't be playing again until he's 35, when many footballers' careers are over. Pogba called the decision “wrong” and described himself as “sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built up in my professional career has been taken away from me.”

The NADO has 30 days to justify its decision in writing. The Pogba camp then has 20 days to study these 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 never thought for a moment that Paul had any intention or desire to take drugs,” said sad French coach Didier Deschamps. “Paul has been going through an extremely difficult time for months, as hard as the verdict, and given the relationship we have built with the national team, of course I can’t be indifferent.”

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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 happens. Wise beyond his years, pure in soul. Through thick and thin”.

Pogba's wife Zulay emphasized: “The truth will always prevail, stay strong as always, mi rey.”

Some of his Juventus teammates have joined him. Pogba still lives in Turin. After returning to the city from Manchester United, he moved into the villa abandoned by Cristiano Ronaldo overlooking Piazza Vittorio Veneto.

Juventus did not comment. The club's football director, Cristiano Giuntoli, said in December: “We are waiting for the final verdict.” While the NADO in Italy has decided on this, the appeal process will not be exhausted until the CAS has heard the Pogba case. If accelerated, a final decision could come within four months. If not, you can expect a longer waiting time.

According to the collective agreement concluded between the clubs and the Italian Players' Association (AIC), Juventus has paid Pogba, the highest-earning player alongside Dusan Vlahovic, the minimum wage until the case is resolved.

If CAS upholds NADO's decision, they have the right to sack Pogba. His contract runs until 2026 and termination would save the club tens of millions. Parallel to the appeal process, Juventus is unlikely to take action until the summer for tax reasons.

When Pogba signed a free transfer contract in 2022, club and player alike benefited from the tax relief of the Decreto Crescita. To be effective, the player must be resident in Italy for two years, otherwise the tax saving must be paid back in income.

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Pogba won't be 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 am very close to Paul. Football loses a player like no other. We hope for the best, also because it will be difficult mentally.”

Despite the seeming carelessness of taking a substance without knowing it's banned, it's hard not to feel sympathy for Pogba.

Annus horribilis has followed Annus horribilis. He was the victim of a suspected extortion attempt that led to the arrest of five people, including his brother Matthias, who was subsequently released.

“Money changes people,” Pogba told Al Jazeera. “It can destroy a family. It can start a war. Sometimes I was alone and thought, “I don’t want any more money.” I just don’t want to play anymore. I just want to be around normal people so that they love me for me – not for the fame, not for the money. “Sometimes it's hard.”

A toll fee was charged.

His long-time agent Mino Raiola died in April 2022. Injuries kept him isolated from football. Pogba's decision not to undergo surgery after tearing his meniscus in the summer of 2022 was a misjudgment. 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 tearing his meniscus, and there was disappointment when he was dropped for being late for the team meeting ahead of the European Round of 16 League appeared draw against Freiburg this time last year.

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Pogba holds back teammate Weston McKennie in Juventus training last August (Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images)

In total, Pogba played 213 minutes in a year and a half. If the ban is upheld, by the time he is eligible to play again he will have not played regularly for almost six years.

Some will call it a huge waste of talent. Others will counter that Pogba has achieved more at the age of 31 than most footballers could ever dream of. At the moment it's hardly any consolation.

“When I am freed from legal restrictions, the whole story becomes clear,” Pogba said. Only then can he argue that the career “that was taken from me” was not thrown away.

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