PAUL POGBA encapsulated it best himself.

“Football is very beautiful, but it’s cruel,” he said in a raw, candid interview released over the weekend. Barely 24 hours later, the 30-year-old was staring the end of his career in the face.

Provisionally suspended after failing a drugs test, the Juventus midfielder could now face a four-year ban if the testosterone found in his system is ruled to have been taken deliberately – something his representatives have vehemently denied, reportedly blaming the result on nutritional supplements. It would be a tragic conclusion to a career which has known more than its fair share already.

Long before it materialised in May 2022, a departure from Manchester United felt like the best way for a supremely talented footballer to finally flourish once more. Instead, things have spiralled.

Two months prior, Pogba was allegedly kidnapped near Paris by masked gunmen who demanded he pay protection money in the region of £13m. His brother Mathias later released a truly bizarre video claiming Pogba had paid an African holy man to place a curse on Kylian Mbappe. His return to Juventus has been plagued by fitness issues, the worst coming as he broke down tearfully only 23 minutes into his second debut for the Serie A club. He has since undergone surgery on persistent knee problems.

READ MORE: Ally McCoist brands Scotland fans 'out of order' for England booing

The ongoing drug controversy is just the latest in a string of problems he has faced, one that could force the conclusion of a career many will regard as unfulfilled. Without context, it seems an odd verdict to pass down on a man who has won the World Cup, four Serie A titles and was once the game’s most expensive signing. But then you consider how good Pogba once was, and how good he may have become.

There was feverish excitement surrounding his £89m comeback to Old Trafford in 2016. He had been the star in a Juventus team littered with them, a young man blessed with extraordinary technical and physical qualities. Sumptuous ball control, explosive power, a wicked shot and an eye for the passes even some of the very best midfielders could not visualise.

He should have been the foundation for a new era of success at United, the solution to the post-Ferguson malaise. And yet he somehow just never seemed to fit.

With hindsight, we can now safely classify Old Trafford as a career graveyard for a litany of top talents. It has been truly startling how many who had been on a relentlessly upward trajectory have crashed and burned in an arena once fittingly billed as the Theatre of Dreams. It is not a term you hear much these days. The likes of Memphis Depay, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez and now Jadon Sancho have all had their careers hit the skids in the red corner of Manchester.

The debate around Pogba was never one of talent, but how best to utilise him. Restricted in a deep-lying role, not quite suited to playing as a 10, his best days were enjoyed in a Juventus setup that permitted a degree of freedom where he would not be bound to the modern midfield labels.

In an era of specialists defined by numbers, Pogba was never a true six, eight or 10, and United were never good enough to accommodate a maverick figure for whom concessions were required. For all his ability, though, there were persistent issues with consistency. He had an infuriating tendency to follow up moments of astonishing brilliance with unfathomable sloppiness.

And then came the sideshows. Pogba had always been a free spirit, but the flamboyancy which would never be an issue in a winning team, as it was in Turin, did not marry as well with United side which were too often anything but. That being said, there was a sinister undercurrent to how a harmless penchant for flashy haircuts and social media engagement only ever became an issue after poor results. It now seems obvious he would eventually clash with Jose Mourinho, especially as the former United manager became increasingly more abrasive the longer his tenure at the club dragged wearily on. United fans had been generally supportive with Pogba, but even that relationship began to deteriorate as, with his contract running down, he publicly batted eyelashes at Real Madrid.

As United plumbed new depths, Pogba was red carded for a cynical challenge just minutes after being subbed on with his team-mates already 5-0 down to Liverpool in October 2021. That felt very much like the point of no return, and he departed for free at the end of the season.

Blame was duly apportioned in all directions, with United accused of mishandling a precocious talent, something many were certain would be proven when he finally broke free of the club. It has not. Pogba did not always help himself, either, and whichever way you spin it, the primary conclusion is this was a union which promised so much yet sadly underdelivered.

READ MORE: Sir Alex Ferguson in Rangers 'kept their dignity' claim

It would have been heartening to see him rediscover himself in the aftermath, but the past 18 months have been punctuated mainly by sadness. Pogba suffered the loss of his agent and close friend Mino Raiola to cancer in April 2022, while already dealing with the kidnapping allegations and the episode involving his brother.

In last weekend’s interview, Pogba told Al Jazeera he had considered retiring, wishing he had never found money and fame while hinting at something that sounds a lot like loneliness. “Sometimes I don’t want to have money anymore,” he said. 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.”

Pogba may yet be cleared of the doping accusations, but he sounds like a man who already feels defeated by the pitfalls of being a global superstar. And for a player who was a joy to behold in full flight, it’s hard not to feel saddened by how it has all unfolded.