Paul Pogba’s wife Maria Zulay Salaues took charge of his Instagram page on Valentine’s Day, sharing a video of a suited and booted Pogba dishing up a romantic feast.
Coming the day after an anaemic performance at West Brom, cue the jokes about Manchester United missing his service, or how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would love the Frenchman back on the field.
Whether Pogba’s talents in the kitchen match up to what he produces on the pitch is known only by Zulay and a few select others. But it would be a tall order, without a doubt.
Eagle-eyed fans like to spot hints and implications in Pogba’s social media activity regarding where his future lies, but the fact he wore an all-red suit on Monday night shouldn’t be interpreted as a message of his undying commitment to United. Pogba once wore a similarly striking number when hitting the town for Jesse Lingard’s clothing brand launch in 2018. And if Mino Raiola’s December proclamation is to be believed — and despite his penchant for giving interviews, he usually sticks to his word — Pogba will leave United this summer.
Raiola did not quite build on that now infamous Tuttosport interview last week when he was again asked about Pogba’s future. The message was more cryptic this time.
He said: “I can’t speak about Pogba because people are nervous, they don’t sleep at night. I have to work quietly. If I speak, someone gets offended.
“Pogba must also be left alone. I will do what I have to do not in front of you, but in the shadows, as I have always done.”
Raiola’s shadowplay will mean Pogba will leave United for Real Madrid, Juventus or Paris Saint-Germain in the summer transfer window, unless there is a major hiccup or a change of tack in the next few months.
And yet, before his recent injury, it had become obvious Pogba has rediscovered his love and passion for playing for United.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faced calls to permanently drop Pogba after Raiola’s December diatribe derailed United on the eve of a crunch Champions League tie at Leipzig. But the Norwegian subtly kept his star midfielder integrated in the squad and propelled Pogba to arguably his best run of form in a red shirt thereafter; perhaps on a par with the spell in early 2019 when the 27-year-old was freed by Jose Mourinho’s departure.
To be fair, Solskjaer — nor anyone from United speaking on the record — has ever said Pogba would definitely leave this summer, when there are just 12 months left on his contract and a transfer is widely expected. It’s been an open secret, however, to which the Norwegian has turned a blind eye.
Speculation about Paul is always going to be there,” Solskjaer said at a press conference earlier this month. “We’ve got a good open dialogue with Paul, so what we talk about and how we see that situation remains between us of course.
“I’m just happy he’s focused, he’s playing really well and he’s happy in himself and that’s important. You can see Paul now enjoying playing football with a red shirt on.”
Red shirt, red suit, whatever… Pogba wears his heart on his sleeve and it’s clear he likes to feel loved. Mourinho did not give him that feeling, while Solskjaer has largely indulged him. A mega-bucks transfer to one of Europe’s superpower clubs would also come with a bundle of love.
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But does it have to be this way? Is Pogba’s move completely signed and sealed?
The way Solskjaer has dealt with the Pogba situation has been sensitive, diplomatic and, crucially, it has kept United’s options open.
Some may feel it would be embarrassing for United to pander to Pogba and Raiola and table a bumper new contract offer to the 27-year-old. Some may feel principles are more important than Paul Pogba at Old Trafford. They might be right.
But United’s recent performances in midfield without their World Cup winner, against Everton (in the second half), West Ham (for two hours) and West Brom suggest otherwise. Scott McTominay, Fred, Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic are not in Pogba’s class and most at United know that.
They are still reliant on him as a footballer and there could be value in reaching out to Pogba before the summer transfer window opens and chaos ensues.
They should be on red alert.
There may be one final show of affection in store.