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Manchester United, Barcelona and Paul Pogba


Manchester United, Barcelona and Paul Pogba

The likelihood of a move away from Old Trafford is very low but there is no doubting the Frenchman has still not totally settled

AFTER a pre-season played under a cloud, most Manchester United fans don’t want to believe the headlines that Paul Pogba wants to leave the club and until he says so himself which is highly unlikely, they won’t believe them either.

Though there are plenty of reservations about the Frenchman among fans, there are also hopes that, buoyed by a World Cup win, he can be more influential at Old Trafford this season. 

Seeing him go with so little time to get a replacement would be a blow, though United, who are continuing to try and sign players before tomorrow’s transfer deadline, have no intention of selling him. Nor have they received any fresh demands for a pay rise. 

But you can see where this is coming from. United bowed to Wayne Rooney’s massive demands for a contract until 2019 when they were at a perceived weak point in February 2014. Rooney even wanted to extend that contract beyond 2019.

Rooney was the club’s best player when he negotiated, while Pogba’s stock is high after victory in Russia and United are getting hammered because Jose Mourinho won’t smile.

Pogba could be happier at United and that much has been true for most of 2018. He has a manager who feels like he has to play him, even when he’s not playing well, because of what he cost, what the club want and how influential he is in the dressing room. When he doesn’t play him, as in the biggest game of the season at Sevilla, there is a storm of controversy. 

As ever in football, there are often four sides to the story and two versions of the truth. Take February alone. Pogba played with a stomach bug at Newcastle, a few days after being brought off against Tottenham after Mousa Dembele outshone him at Wembley in the league. It was a different story in the FA Cup semi-final, but let’s stick to February where Mourinho started Scott McTominay ahead of him in Seville.

That’s Pogba who wants to be captain and Mourinho, who does not want him to be captain at present. Roy Keane and Alex Ferguson had similar issues with each other, but they were easier to deal with when United were winning the league most seasons.

United have no intention of selling someone they consider central to their ‘recovery’. It was on that premise that United got him in 2016 when Pogba wanted to join Real Madrid. For their part, Barcelona backed out earlier in that year.

United told Pogba that if he went to Madrid then he’d be one of four of five star players. United showed how interest in him joining their club compared to Madrid on social media. It was far bigger and, after speaking to friends and people he respected in football, he moved back to the club which didn’t want to sell him in 2012. He had been right to leave the first time, his decision vindicated when he went straight into Juventus’ first team.

As at United, he could infuriate fans and teammates in Turin, but he was protected and indulged because he was so talented. He also showed that he could play in a disciplined systemand trained as hard as everyone else.

Two years into Pogba Mk II, United and the Frenchman haven’t fully synchronised. He’s been decent but not as decent he can be, but then neither have the team around him. Pogba’s not quite consistent enough to be Keane class, but then neither are the players around him. Opponents are fitter, wealthier and more productive than when Keane played, too.

So why has the story about Barcelona wanting him surfaced? 

Pogba’s agent has been blamed for trying to engineer a huge deal for which he’ll get a cut. Yet most successful agents only do that when their players are unhappy and they’re instructed to do so.  

Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t like or trust Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola. Paul Pogba does like and trust him – in part because he’s got his back. And Ferguson was hardly going to like someone who disagreed with him, stood his ground and took his most promising player away from him. I spoke to Ed Woodward about that Pogba/Juventus deal and he said: “from what I’ve heard a situation was cooked up and I’m not sure that we could have done anything different to how we played our cards. It was a stacked deck.”

Is the deck being stacked again against United?

From Pogba’s perspective, you could understand why he might like the idea of playing with the best player ever. Of living in Barcelona, playing at Camp Nou for a side who will again be among the favourites to win the European Cup. Manchester United won’t.

Pogba doesn’t strike this writer as a classic Barça player. Where would someone who likes to freestyle so much fit in a system which only allows Lionel Messi to do that? Do Barça really need him when they’ve got so many players in that position? I’ve spoken to people at the Barcelona end and was left with the feeling that while they definitely want to cash in on Andre Gomes – a very good player who, for whatever reason, hasn’t worked out at Camp Nou – there wasn’t a particularly strong feeling to try and get Pogba. But then what is ‘Barça?’

When Manchester United sign – or try to sign – players, the views of the manager and Woodward are what matter. At Barça there are the coach, sporting director and president. The club is split between the business side and the sporting side andthey can want different things. The business side wanted to sell Cesc Fabregas to United in 2013, the sporting side did not. The business side have wanted to pare down wages all year after huge investments in players.

Don’t expect stories linking United’s best players with a move away to disappear, but after a scorching summer of sun, Manchester is back under a lowering bank of grey cloud. The football season is ready to start and winning matches is the one thing that can blow away any discord, just as it did at Barcelona a year ago when there was a sizeable motion against the club president. They were far more desperate for new signings then than, as champions with four of their targets already signed including attacking midfielders Arturo Vidal and Arthur, they are now.

 

 

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