“I can say that it’s over for Paul Pogba at Manchester United.”
Mino Raiola couldn’t have made the intentions of his highest profile client more clear on the eve of Manchester United’s decisive Champions League trip to RB Leipzig last month.
His comments definitely didn’t help the team – United fell out of the competition after a first half collapse. They were on a road to nowhere but the Europa League, struggling to meet domestic targets, and Pogba wasn’t even considered an automatic starter by his manager. His reasons for wanting to leave were understandable.
But how things can change…
Paul Pogba is now undroppable. He’s in a spell of form we’ve rarely seen him produce in red. He looks fighting fit after battling coronavirus. He has trust from his manager. He is being decisive, scoring two match-winning goals in his last three league matches. And he is starting to smell the potential of success that United sold to him upon his return in 2016 – they sit top of the Premier League table at the half way point of the season.
The Frenchman made a habit in recent weeks of appearing for interviews with UK television stations. His message is clear – he’s happiest when winning. He wants to play football. He hates being on the bench. And as it stands, everything he wants, he’s getting.
We’ve rarely heard from Raiola since. But it’s been his job throughout Pogba’s career to maximise the cash in his pocket, and to push for transfers to happen even when the timing is massively inconvenient. We all remember the talk of Pogba and Manchester City days before he inspired a comeback to delay City winning the title, while sporting sky blue hair.
As it stands, Raiola is still trying to manufacture an exit – which it is maintained by 90min sources that Pogba still wants – to one of Juventus or Real Madrid. The power is in the hands of the player and his agent and it’s widely expected that United will cash in at the end of the season – or seek an exchange deal worthy of one of the world’s most talented midfielders.
Are there actually better options out there?
That question is the point of what you’re reading, really.
Nobody doubts that Real Madrid and Juventus are two of the biggest clubs in the world. But it’s safe enough to argue at this point that Pogba would be jumping back into the period of transition he’s been trying to escape from in Manchester for years by ending up in the Spanish capital or Turin.
United have not delivered on their promises to Pogba over the course of his contract. But an exit this year would be jumping ship at the very time they’re suggesting they’re finally capable of doing so, while uncertainty takes hold of his primary suitors. It doesn’t scream sensible for a player who will be 28 in two months – at the peak of his career – to have to acclimatise to two clubs who aren’t firing on all cylinders themselves.
What of Juventus?
Juventus sit ten points off the pace in Serie A and outside of the Champions League places under a manager who only completed his coaching badges four months ago. They can’t afford to renew the contract of one of their finest players and are lumbered with an ageing squad that has missed their best chance to win the Champions League.
Your annual reminder that this is a competition they haven’t won since 1996, by the way.
90min’s resident Juventus expert and English Features Editor, Jack Gallagher, can give you more context.
“Paul Pogba is the ‘dream’ signing for Juventus. He is exactly the sort of player their midfield has been in dire need of since, well, he left for Man Utd five years ago.
“Unfortunately for Juve however, right now the club shouldn’t really be that attractive a prospect for a player like Pogba – a player in his prime looking to win every trophy known to man.
“They still work for all of the Cristiano Ronaldo super fans out there, but as a sporting project Juventus are not in the best place. The dream of winning the Champions League is very clearly dead in the water, and even their grasp on the scudetto is seemingly set to be broken this season. The idea is more beautiful than the reality.
“As such, La Vecchia Signora look set to embark on a period of transition in which the old guard are replaced by young prospects. We’ve seen this transitional period in action already over the past six months with Federico Chiesa, Dejan Kulusevski and co. coming to Turin, but it’s pretty clear that there is a long way to go before Juve can be seen as genuine Champions League contenders again.
“Oh and top it all off, Juve definitely can’t afford Pogba without continuing to compromise themselves. While paying Ronaldo €31m a year after tax (yes, after tax) Juventus can barely afford their current squad, never mind another superstar. It makes little business sense.”
Real Madrid aren’t perfect either
Real Madrid on Wednesday night endured one of the darkest moments in their history, falling to defeat against 10-man Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey. This team play in the third division and boast a 41-year-old goalkeeper between the sticks. Zinedine Zidane, one of the chief reasons behind Pogba’s desire to join them, hasn’t felt pressure like this before.
Florentino Perez is preparing a summer overhaul of the squad that includes signing Kylian Mbappe and David Alaba, while someone of Eduardo Camavinga’s ilk could follow too. But Real Madrid are certainly not the team who won four Champions League titles in five years, as 90min’s senior editor in Spain Andrew Headspeath explains.
“Real Madrid will always hold serious appeal for any player, while the club remain among the favourites for trophies pretty much every season. However, much like with Juventus, the team has issues beyond its surface appeal.
“Pogba has been a bit of an obsession for Zidane for some time, but following Wednesday’s result, there are serious doubts that he will even be there to lead them beyond 2020/21.
“Regardless of who the manager is, Madrid are a club in transition. This season, they have been caught between two eras; namely, the fading superpowers of the old guard (Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos etc) and the talented but inexperienced youth they have invested in so heavily over recent seasons. Pogba has been expected to lead a similar unit at United under Solskjaer.
“Contract expiries and pandemic-enforced cost-cutting means more club legends could be gone in the summer, bringing forward to a jarring need to go a different way.
“Pogba may relish the prestige and pressure of being the next Galactico, but he will be aware too of the fates of Philippe Coutinho and Eden Hazard, who left the Premier League for Spain’s super clubs and have largely been swallowed up – with their own performances only partly to blame for their failings.”
So where does that leave Pogba?
On the surface, you’d still expect one of these moves to go through regardless of limitations, so long as the desire is there, but Paul Pogba should really question whether the grass is actually greener on the other side before making any decision.
Throw in that United will pay him the best contract of the three and it makes even less sense.
Another alternative may well be Paris Saint-Germain, who cannot be ruled out, but they are encountering problems of their own in the knowledge that Kylian Mbappe himself has a year left on his contract in Paris. It’s an easy route to domestic trophies, but their own Champions League title remains elusive.
Manchester United are, in the current planning, one summer away from an effective and complete playing squad, and before they’ve got there the signs are starting to appear that the darkest days may be behind them. They are perhaps four players away from having the quality to match most in Europe and you’d expect them to address these problems before next season.
He will keep his head down and continue to try and perform to his best, before making a decision of where he goes rather than whether he should leave according to what we already know. But he might finally now be closing in on the Manchester United he always wanted to join in the first place.