And so it begins again…
Just four games into the season Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job is coming under threat and Paul Pogba is linked with a new contract to stay at Manchester United. It feels like we have been here before - probably because we have.
The manager and star French midfielder have had their positions closely scrutinised throughout the past few years so it is no surprise we are reading on social platforms and in media reports of uncertainty about both men and whether they even deserve to stay on. The difference this time is that both cases are very real.
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The only way to gauge success is results
This season Solskjaer’s job really could come under threat - which has never been the case before. And Pogba really could finally sign that new contract extension. Because if he doesn’t it means he has decided to quit Old Trafford.
United should be riding the crest of a wave right now after a summer in which they landed Jadon Sancho, Rafael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo. But such is the high expectation around the Theatre of Dreams, the only way to gauge success is results on the pitch. Even this early.
The club’s hierarchy have given Solskjaer supreme backing and handed him a new contract in July with a mission to now deliver trophies over the next three seasons.
He has been given time to iron out the squad, to implement changes around the club, to add elite level talent, and to see through adaptations at boardroom level as Ed Woodward - one of his biggest supporters - prepares to stand down from his role as executive vice-chairman at the end of 2021.
Everything is in place for United to challenge in the Premier League and Champions League yet that 2-1 defeat at Young Boys provided the first serious reminder of how quickly things could go wrong for Solskjaer this season.
In Group F alongside Villarreal, Atalanta and Swiss side Young Boys, United are expected to make it through without too much trouble. Failure to do so is going to lead to deep questioning and big decision-making.
Former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte linked
Antonio Conte was linked with the United job on the back of that shock European result on Tuesday night as that familiar #OleOut trend returned once more.
Conte, out of a job since leaving Inter Milan at the end of last season, is understood to be open to a return to English football and is unquestionably the type of boss United would need to consider next.
His record of achieving success quickly at big clubs has huge appeal - and after seeing the way Chelsea have evolved since taking the ruthless decision to part ways with Frank Lampard to bring in a proven top-level coach in Thomas Tuchel, there has to come a time when Solskjaer’s role comes under the microscope.
Sources close to the club are adamant that is still an issue for further down the line and will only become a genuine problem if United fail to make it out of the Champions League group.
But, all the same, it has an impact on the overall feel of the club.
Haaland could block Pogba's Real Madrid path
Pogba has had a new lease of life at Old Trafford in recent times and his improved form, along with United’s show of ambition in the transfer market, has given him fresh hope that he can win a major domestic or European title in Manchester.
Opening talks over a new deal would indeed be a good sign for United yet any cynic would also see that Pogba needs those conversations to happen before the end of the year anyway, as his expiring contract means he can speak to foreign clubs about a move from January and will want to know some ballpark figures to aim for in terms of personal terms.
His agent Mino Raiola has a big year ahead, with client Erling Haaland set for a major transfer in 2022.
Pogba has a desire to join Real Madrid yet Haaland too has a path into the Santiago Bernabeu and at this stage the Norwegian is deemed to be the priority move.
It makes Pogba’s situation slightly more complicated but he can rest in the knowledge that a barrier to Madrid is not the end of the world.
Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona are interested in him while United have removed the ceiling on their wage structure, through the signing of Ronaldo, and that gives scope for a mega-deal if he stays. Until that Ronaldo return there was very little likelihood of Pogba getting towards the £500,000-a-week range at United - but his representatives will now push the club to the limit to see how they value him.
Solskjaer and Pogba are both striving for success at Old Trafford and the coming months will indicate whether either man is going to reach the top of the mountain.
This could be one of the greatest seasons of their lives. It could also be their final season at Manchester United.
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