Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have leapt to his defence on Wednesday but it has been clear that Man Utd can’t move forward with the wantaway midfielder
Just as in 2016, Manchester United’s summer seems to have been dominated by the name of Paul Pogba.
But whereas three years ago there was a heightened sense of anticipation over an impending world-record transfer, this time around there’s a feeling of foreboding over the Frenchman’s exit and the potential damage it could do along the way.
The current stand-off sees Pogba and his agent Mino Raiola paving the way for a departure to Real Madrid or Juventus while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attempts to convince everybody it’s business as usual.
“As far as I’m aware, up to now we don’t have any bids for any of our players so there’s nothing to say other than Paul, like most of our players, have got long contracts. We’re Man Utd, we don’t have to sell players,” Solskjaer said in Perth on Wednesday at the beginning of the club’s pre-season tour.
“Paul has never put himself out of the team, he’s always wanted to play, he’s always given his best. Agents talk all the time, but we’ve not had bids from any clubs and that’s all I can say about the matter.
“It looks like it’s a media, I don’t want to call it a… it’s an agenda against Paul. He’s a top, top bloke, he’s a great, great professional, he’s never been any problem, he’s got a heart of gold.”
Unfortunately for Solskjaer, that stance would only hold weight if Pogba himself hadn’t kicked off the frenzy by proclaiming he was ready for “a new challenge” at a promotional event in Japan in June. The France international knew exactly what he was doing, he knew the stir it would cause, he knew the difficulties it could create for his manager, and he went ahead and said what he said anyway. He wants a move, and the prospect of him staying diminishes with every moment he doesn’t step forward and commit to the Red Devils.
And in terms of Solskjaer’s “no bids” claim, well that’s not really how the football market works anymore. Perhaps when he was a soccer professional there was still a culture of clubs having to make official approaches before any other movement was evident, but the likes of Raiola have helped to change the landscape in recent times and there has been an increasing inevitability about the way this saga will end. Players hankering for a move very rarely fail to get their way in modern football.
Since Pogba set the wheels in motion with his public request for a new challenge, Raiola has ensured that his client’s desires have remained at the forefront of everybody’s mind, most recently releasing a statement to talkSPORT on Tuesday.
“Pogba has done nothing wrong, he has been respectful and professional in every way,” Raiola explained. “The club knows his feeling for a long time. It’s a shame other people only like to criticise him without the right information.
“I’m sorry that the club does not take any position against this. Hopefully there will soon be a satisfying solution for all parties.”
For now, there has been an impasse. Solskjaer spent much of his first five months in charge insisting he wants to build his Manchester United squad around Pogba, seemingly leaving him red-faced and short of a figurehead in midfield if the World Cup-winner were to leave.
But what the manager needs more has been buy-in from his entire squad. Given the way he wants to do things at Old Trafford and the team mentality he wants to build, he can’t afford to have any egotistical players only thinking about themselves.
Solskjaer has a vision which will rely on players respecting and representing the badge, and personal agendas do not fit in with that. The likes of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been added this summer exactly because they have the drive and hunger the Norwegian has been looking to inject, and that cannot be compromised in order to satiate Pogba.
To be fair to the 26-year-old, he could have been far less professional than he has been. Look no further than Brazilian superstar Neymar for an example of a high-profile soccer professional who has treated his club with contempt .
After multiple acts of indiscipline over the last two years, Neymar’s own transfer request coincided with him not even attending pre-season training this week. The Brazilian will remain in his homeland for another week, despite PSG claiming he doesn’t have permission to do so.
Antoine Griezmann – who wants to leave Atletico Madrid this summer – also failed to turn up to training despite famously labelling the team as “My fans, my club, my home” when rejecting a move to Barcelona last summer.
Unlike Neymar and Griezmann, Pogba actually turned up for work when he was meant to. But that has been a pretty low bar to be setting in terms of behavioural standards.
What Pogba has done with his carefully-orchestrated media campaign has been hand in a virtual transfer request. It basically leaves him with no way back into the hearts of Manchester United fans.
Think of Wayne Rooney, who told Sir Alex Ferguson in 2010 that he wanted to move on and would do the same again in 2013 shortly before the legendary manager retired. Never again was the England striker viewed in quite the same way by United supporters.
The widespread response to Pogba’s and Raiola’s summer shenanigans has begun to resemble fierce toxicity, and while it would be a blow to Solskjaer to lose arguably his only truly world-class star he cannot afford to carry passengers in his new project built around work ethic, guts and hunger. If Pogba doesn’t have the stomach for the fight at United, there has been only one inevitable result.
It has been a path well-worn by successful sides of the past. Pep Guardiola’s first summer as a rookie Barcelona boss has been remembered best for his decision to offload Ronaldinho and Deco having decided they were more trouble than they were worth. What followed was unprecedented success.
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He would repeat the dose over the next couple of years in shedding Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure, and achieving continuing success all the while. And while there has been no instant path to glory in replacing top-level quality with hunger and desire, there has been every reason to believe it has been a model which United can succeed with too.
Losing Pogba, a man who scored 16 goals last term and was the blisteringly-hot architect of United’s best run of form in years at the beginning of 2019, would undoubtedly be a step backwards.
But if that’s what Solskjaer needs to inject some true Manchester United DNA into the rest of the squad and underline the standards expected of a United soccer professional, then in the long run there could be many more positives to be taken from this nonsense impasse.