Paul Pogba has been heavily linked with a summer exit from Manchester United. But staying at Old Trafford might be the better decision for him.
It’s the summer of 2016. Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba has his entire focus on helping France to a European Championship triumph at home. At the same time, however, speculation over his future at club level is rampant, with his agent Mino Raiola busy courting prospective suitors.
After a stunning 2014-15 campaign, Pogba had endeared himself to some of the biggest clubs in the world and all through the season, it has looked like a big-money move could be on the cards in the summer window. Real Madrid seem to be the favourites to sign him, with Zinedine Zidane a huge fan. Eventually, though, Pogba joins Manchester United for a world record £89 million fee.
Fast forward four years and the world record for the highest transfer fee has been shattered. The season leading up to the latest European Championship has once again been choc-a-bloc with rumours of an impending exit, this time from Manchester United. Yet again, the widespread speculation has come immediately after a superb campaign on a personal level, Pogba’s most productive wearing the red of Manchester United.
The Euro might have since been postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the transfer rumours have just not gone away. After all, the second coming at Old Trafford has been a rather mixed one, with the Red Devils only enjoying mild success over the last four years.
After winning just two trophies in this time, it was clear that Pogba was not exactly a happy camper at Manchester United, going on to make ominous comments last summer about wanting a new adventure. A fresh challenge was not granted to him, as United successfully kept hold of the player.
The season that has followed has gradually promised much for the Red Devils, all while Pogba has been away on the sidelines, nursing a spate of foot-related injuries. Still, despite making a mere 8 appearances so far this season, his stock has not fallen one bit.
Like four years ago, Real Madrid are interested in signing Pogba, with Zidane still a fan of his compatriot. Like four years ago, a former club, ironically Juventus this time, is hoping to secure the services of a player who polarizes opinions unlike any other.
As for Manchester United, their patience has been wearing thin, more so with the notorious Raiola than with Pogba himself. If anything, the signs from the Frenchman over the course of the season have barely alluded towards wanting to secure a move away from Old Trafford.
The same cannot be said of Raiola, whose outspoken nature has managed to frustrate even the usually unperturbed and jolly Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Manchester United manager even recently commented that he does not want any more bad apples in his squad. Make of it what you will, but chances are the fingers are pointed towards Raiola and his ways.
That, however, is the Raiola trademark, fortunately or unfortunately. He is willing to be at odds with a player’s parent club; he is willing to openly invite suitors for his clients; souring relations hardly matter to him, if it gets the job done. More often than not, the job gets done. This time, though, Raiola’s best laid plans might have been dented.
Like the Euro’s prospects of being completed this year, the possibility of summer a move to either Real Madrid or Juventus slowly seems to be withering away. The COVID-19 outbreak has, after all, changed the dynamics of the transfer market dramatically, especially if some of the most influential figures in the game are to be believed.
Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently provided the reality check, claiming that the financial situation resulting from the coronavirus pandemic is so dire that many clubs will have to sell before they buy and that prices and salaries will go down.
Former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, a modern day coach who seen the transfer market completely transform during his managerial career, has exclaimed that the “crazy” transfer fees could be a thing of the past, at least for a short while. And, when it comes to potential summer transfers, few were bound to get crazier than Pogba’s.
However, a player with a price tag of over £100 million slapped on him is unlikely attract suitors anymore. Even Real Madrid, with their riches, will have to spend carefully, especially with several big-name players invariably linked with future moves. Speaking of big-name players, rumour has it that Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are on top of their wishlist.
A move for Pogba, thus, no longer seems to be a priority, and for good reason. Someone like Donny van de Beek, another one of Real Madrid’s midfield targets, would cost a fraction of the price that they will have to pay for Pogba. The Dutchman would be a better fit in Real’s setup as well.
There have also been suggestions that Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, is not too keen on Pogba either. Meanwhile, Juventus have reportedly imposed a salary cap of £7.9 million-a-year for new signings, which effectively rules them out of contention for their former star.
The 27-year-old earns over £15 million every year at Manchester United and unless he takes a significant pay cut, a return to a place he calls his “home” is as good as impossible. Italian outlet Tuttosport ran a headline to the same effect as well, claiming that the Bianconeri cannot match Pogba’s wages.
So, for all intents and purposes, it seems like an unhappy marriage is set to continue, at least for another year, if not longer. Pogba, though, would be ill advised to continue searching for a new club and should focus his attention of giving his peak years to Manchester United now, even though this might not be the scenario either he or Raiola would have envisioned. Why should he do so?
To begin with, Manchester United seem to have slowly put their worst days behind them as the season has progressed. Their inconsistencies and struggles might just be a thing of the past. The arrival of Bruno Fernandes, which might have been seen as a way to reduce the dependency on Pogba if not perhaps move him out of the squad, has galvanized the entire first-team.
The presence of the Portuguese international also means Pogba no longer has to shoulder pretty much all of the creative burden when he returns. That alone would be a huge weight off his shoulders and might just enable him to express himself more freely.
Evidence of the same can be seen in footage of training sessions involving the 27-year-old and his new midfield partner. We have also seen something like that happen at international level, where he has teammates like Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
In turn, the frequency of those odd sulky performances complete with dropped shoulders ought to reduce. Granted, this is all just wishful thinking. What isn’t wishful thinking, though, is the fact that Manchester United look the most trophy ready that they ever have since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The signings of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes, coupled with the progress of Scott McTominay and Fred, has made United quite a balanced squad. They have a clear attacking approach in games. At the back, they have one of the most solid defences in the Premier League, if not beyond.
With Bruno and the reinvigorated Nemanja Matic in tow, along with fine backup options like Fred and McTominay, Pogba can spearhead a potentially formidable midfield unit. Not to forget, Pogba’s famous proclamations upon sealing his return to Manchester United.
Some of the excerpts read, “I think it’s destiny. I didn’t finish what I started here so I think I came to finish it. I only think about the pitch. I want to do great, I want to be one of the best, I want to win titles, I want to achieve things.”
“That’s why I came here – to do this, to become one of the best. I want to win titles because I know this club has to win titles. This club is great to win titles with, to win big things. I’m focused on this and I’m just ready to go… and just kill it!”
Of course, these interviews can often be PR exercises more than anything. But, one thing that can surely not be denied is the burning desire to be the best, to win the big titles. With a summer move not likely, this ought to be Pogba’s best chance to prove that he still has that fire burning within and “finish what he started” by taking Manchester United back to the top.
As for Manchester United, being forced to keep Pogba (if they indeed wished to be rid of him) might just be a blessing in disguise. For on his day, he still remains one of their best players if not the absolute best. It is now up to both parties to unite for a common cause, for Pogba to prove that he is one of the best midfielders in the world.
It might not be the perfect situation for him but then again, these are hardly perfect times we are living in right now. If nothing, he will leave Manchester United, when he does, with a handsome paycheck. If he ends up winning trophies along the way, then what will he have lost after all?