BARCELONA, Spain — Josep Maria Bartomeu has told ESPN FC that Barcelona could not afford to compete with Manchester United to sign Paul Pogba when he left Juventus in 2016.
Pogba and United face Barcelona in the Champions League at Old Trafford on Wednesday, but the France international could have been playing for the La Liga leaders had things worked out differently.
Barca held meetings with Juventus and Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, in 2015, reaching an agreement that allowed them to match any offer Juve accepted.
But when United agreed to pay £90 million for Pogba a year later, they dropped out of the race.
“In the summer of 2015, Paul Pogba was playing in Turin and we simply told Juve that, if one day they decide to sell the player, we would be interested,” Barca president Bartomeu said.
“When they sold the player, they told us what the offer would have to be and we couldn’t afford that amount of money at the time.
“So he went to United, and he’s making them better as a team because he’s one of the stars of the world of football right now.”
Real Madrid and Barca have been touted as possible destinations should Pogba leave United in the future, but Bartomeu said: “I prefer not to talk about players from other teams because I am sure there are also players at Barca that can make other teams better.
“What I have to recognise is that United, in the last few years, have created a very good group, good players that are coming through. I am sure next season they will be candidates for the Premier League, and this year for the Champions League.”
United faced Barca in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals, losing both, but this is only the second time they have reached the quarterfinals since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Although they have also failed to win the Premier League since Ferguson’s departure, they remain one of the game’s richest clubs, and Bartomeu said Barca had learned from their commercial success.
“I joined Barca in 2003 with [Joan] Laporta and, at that time, the revenue was very low,” he said. “One of the models we were looking at was United: how they were marketing, how they were signing sponsorship [deals] with other companies and, of course, when you learn from the best…
“The gap we had before with United, we don’t have this gap right now. Now we are on similar levels.
“So, United, for us, have always been a reference in terms of finance and revenue, but they have also been a reference in terms of performance.
“It’s true that United’s performance isn’t now what it was before but we have to take care [against them] because in the Premier League there are six, seven very strong clubs. The Premier League is not an easy competition. It’s the strongest football competition as a league in the world — well, second to La Liga.
“That’s why in this competition, sometimes you are up, sometimes you are down. I know that United are working on coming up again.
“We haven’t played at Old Trafford since 2008, so to go back is an honour. We have a lot of respect for United as one of the biggest clubs in Europe.”