Manchester United and France might both want Paul Pogba at his best at Euro 2020, but for United that may see him leave Old Trafford this summer - that would not necessarily be a problem.
The 28-year-old midfielder has produced some of his most consistently effective football since his second transfer to Old Trafford. Over the course of the season he teamed up well with Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and his other teammates as United were able to charge into second place with some capable football. They were hardly dominating the best sides, and they still came up short against Villarreal, but this was the best United have played since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
In part, that was because of Pogba’s contributions on the pitch, and the relative lack of fuss that Mino Raiola was causing. He was not especially disruptive, and much of that is probably due to the manner in which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has elected to handle the French player. Some might wish he were more adversarial with players who might come across as feckless or uncommitted, but realistically any antagonism won’t wash.
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Jose Mourinho may, for example, have correctly judged that Pogba could offer more and didn’t want to, whatever the mitigating factors there are for his underperformance. But whether he dropped him, goaded him or ignored him, he got nothing in return. There was no wish from Pogba to prove the Portuguese wrong, because he could simply sit on the sidelines and instruct his agent to try to force a move elsewhere. He was still getting paid, after all. Ed Woodward regarded Pogba as an asset that could not be sacrificed, and it was easy for the player to wait for the inevitable sacking of Mourinho instead of changing his habits.
Solskjaer’s approach has been to grin and accept any hassle. It might rankle internally, but pragmatically, there is nothing to be gained from causing more agitation in public. Let things slide, and focus on what can be handled.
Reports over the past few days have suggested that Raiola has talked to Paris Saint-Germain about a move to the French capital. For the player, this makes sense. His ideal club, Real Madrid, can't afford his wages. Juventus, thought to be his second choice, can offer no great chance of European success. PSG, however, are one of the few teams who would be able to hand over huge sums of cash in his direction, and over the next year or two should be able to challenge for the Champions League. League titles are more or less assured. In Mauricio Pochettino there is a manager who is content to work with players rather than attempt to bully them, and in Leonardo there is an executive who is generally prepared to side with players above the wishes of any manager.
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PSG also need a win for their fans. If Mbappe is to leave this season or next, then Pogba would be ideal in many respects. He is famous, he is popular in France, and he has the capacity to be excellent. He would fit in and give the side what they need, creativity from deep as well as self-assuredness. Assuming United are willing to take a hit on the valuation they had previously stuck by, he may even work within their financial fair play constraints.
The choice for United then is to get rid of Pogba now, or let him walk for nothing next season. As much as he has improved, he is not the heart of the current team. With Jadon Sancho set to arrive, he wouldn’t even be the most famous. It would be sensible to let PSG offer £30-40 million now and pay for some of the Sancho fee that way. The alternative is to allow his presence to become disruptive again.
Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Image credit: Getty Images
Pogba has shown that, not unreasonably for a player with a short career, his focus rests mainly on what he needs from his life. There would be no need to strain if he wanted to keep himself fresh for whichever team comes next. If Manchester City and Liverpool are again battling for the league title, there will be no race for a trophy that Pogba will be motivated by, for one last impressive season.
United find themselves, as a result, in the same position as Didier Deschamps. With a set of national teams full of players who appear disjointed and discombobulated by the previous pandemic played entirely through coronavirus restrictions, no one team seems a clear favourite. For France, Pogba could emerge as a title-winning inspiration after their dispiriting struggles against Hungary. It would be bittersweet for United, but it might be the best way to engineer a move for PSG to make a move for a hero’s homecoming, one that allows everyone to move onto better things.
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