To truly assess the Paul Pogba situation at Manchester United, perhaps it would be best to take away his name and analyse the picture with a cold heart.
This is a 27-year-old footballer who has scored one Premier League goal for United since April 2019; one of the top earners at the club and a midfielder whose best position remains unclear more than four years after his arrival.
If it was any other player, would the same contract issues receive such media attention?
Would it therefore be fair to compare Pogba’s situation to that of Jesse Lingard, who is the same age and has the same goal record (one in the league) over the same time-frame and in a similar number of games, but who does not attract the same hype?
The answer would have to be no. Because there has always been an aura around Pogba and, for United, a special emotional bond. And there is his frankly outrageous talent to take into account.
When he was at Juventus, there was always a sense of regret from some connected to the club that Pogba was ever allowed to leave. Some blamed Sir Alex Ferguson’s handling of the player, how the legendary Scot denied the young Frenchman a run in the side even when midfield injuries struck in the 2011/12 season.
United broke the bank to bring Pogba back to Manchester but they are still asking how to get the best from him. He is now a World Cup winner and an undoubted elite talent in the global game, as well as a one-man brand, but something has been missing for a while. Amid injury problems, inconsistent form and the odd flicker of his obvious talent, you sense Pogba has not been content at Old Trafford.
Perhaps you can trace that feeling back to May 2019, when Pogba and United finished the season in ignominious fashion with a 2-0 home defeat to relegated Cardiff City. That day, Pogba underperformed and was involved in a verbal altercation with some fans in the Stretford End on the lap of the pitch after the campaign’s final game. Some appeared to indicate to him that they wanted him to leave the club.
So it should not have come as a surprise when, a month later, the player dropped a not-so-subtle hint over his future amid links to Real Madrid, speaking at an Adidas promo event in Japan.
“There is a lot of thinking [going on],” Pogba said. “I have been three years in Manchester and have been doing great – some good moments and some bad moments, like everybody, like everywhere else.
“After this season and everything that happened, with my season being my best season … it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else.”
Those comments prompted more than a year of speculation, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fielding almost weekly questions about his midfielder last season — even when Pogba was sidelined with a serious ankle injury.
Pogba has since doubled down on his desire for a change of scenery, speaking openly about leaving United while on international duty for France.
“We have all heard these things that have been said. What to respond? Yes, all footballers would like to play for Real Madrid. Maybe it is a dream. It is a dream for me, why not one day?”
His national team boss Didier Deschamps seemingly supports Pogba in his quest for a new challenge, claiming the player cannot be happy at United right now.
But what the Old Trafford club must remember is Pogba’s form over the past 18 months, and their own midfield options, which have been given a major boost in recent months with the acquisition of Donny van de Beek.
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United get their Premier League campaign back underway on Saturday when they welcome strugglers West Brom to Old Trafford.
The under-pressure Reds came from behind to beat Everton last time out thanks to Bruno Fernandes’ double and Edinson Cavani’s first goal for United.
The players are returning from the two-week international break, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping to have as few injury and fitness concerns as possible among the stars coming back from international duty.
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United also triggered the extension in Pogba’s contract recently to keep him (nominally) at the club until June 2021. With that, Pogba’s performances and the current situation in midfield, United are holding the ace cards. They can mobilise a Pogba sale in either January or the summer that works for everyone.
And how would the club cope without Pogba? The cynical response is to claim they wouldn’t miss him at all, given the way he’s openly flirted with other clubs and his maddening inconsistencies.
But that would do a major disservice to Pogba’s ability, which we have seen at Old Trafford, albeit too fleetingly for the liking of many. United would miss Paul Pogba, but they can afford to sell him before the summer of 2021 comes to a close. They must remember they are in a powerful position.