For Paul Pogba, the straw that broke the camel’s back during his first spell at Manchester United happened on Sir Alex Ferguson’s 70th birthday.
The French midfielder was left out of United’s starting line-up for a home Premier League clash against Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Eve 2011, despite the fact Ferguson was without a host of first-team players.
Wayne Rooney, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson were dropped following a night out, Michael Carrick was subsequently moved to central defence, while Rafael da Silva and Ji-Sung Park started in central midfield.
The decision to start Rafael, a right-back by trade, in midfield infuriated Pogba.
“It was a very, very difficult moment for me because I was in love with Manchester and I was a Mancunian,” the Frenchman, who left Old Trafford for Juventus at the end of that season, was quoted as saying by ESPN in 2014. “It was the match against Blackburn in December 2011 at Old Trafford.
“Paul Scholes had retired, Darren Fletcher was injured. There was no one left to play in midfield. And I was training and I was beginning to get better bit by bit and the coach never stopped telling me, ‘You’re this far’.
“And I didn’t understand. This far away from what? Playing? From having some playing time? From getting on the field? Or what? And there was Rafael in midfield and I was disgusted. I was disgusted and I didn’t get on either.”
What Rafael said to Pogba after the match
The Rafael-Park experiment failed. United lost the match 3-2, with Grant Hanley nodding in the 80th-minute winner for Steve Kean’s side.
Anderson and Will Keane were both subbed on by Ferguson during the second half but Pogba remained on the bench.
Six years on from that infamous defeat and Rafael has revealed what he told Pogba after starting ahead of the Frenchman in central midfield – and it was very cheeky.
“After that game, Paul asked me why I’d played in midfield and not him,” Rafael told ESPN’s Andy Mitten this week. “He wasn’t happy. I joked to him that it was because I had more quality!”
Very cheeky from Rafael
Even though Pogba was fuming, the light-hearted Rafael did his best to raise his teammate’s spirits by having a tongue-in-cheek dig at his expense.
Pogba continued to be overlooked by Ferguson, who wasn’t convinced the talented youngster was ready for first-team football at the time, for the remainder of the season.
He subsequently joined Juve before returning to Old Trafford four years later for a world-record £89.3 million fee.