Had it not been for the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s a good chance Paul Pogba would have left Manchester United last summer. Everything was set up for the Frenchman to bid farewell to Old Trafford for a second time in his career only for a transfer market, and wider economic, depression to cut off his escape routes.
A lot has changed since then. Pogba has finally flourished into the player United paid a world record £89 million for five years ago. The best demonstration of this to date came in Sunday’s 3-1 away win over Tottenham Hotspur, when Pogba was the best player on the pitch. Everything United did well flowed through the midfielder.
And yet there remains speculation over Pogba’s future at the club. Five months ago, the Frenchman’s notoriously outspoken agent Mino Raiola claimed it was “over” for his client at Manchester United. “Paul is unhappy with Man United as he is no longer able to express himself in the way that he would like and as he is expected to. Paul needs a new team, a change of air,” he said, seemingly teeing up an imminent departure.
Not much has been said by either Pogba or his agent since then, but nor has there been much news regarding talks over a new contract. The 28-year-old has just over a year left on his current deal and so this summer presents all parties with something of a crossroads. If Pogba is to leave United, this upcoming transfer window represents the club’s last real chance to recoup some of the £89 million they paid in 2016.
At this point, though, United should be solely concerned with keeping Pogba. They simply can’t allow him to leave. Not now. Not after all the strife and strained discourse of the last five years. It might have taken longer than expected, but the Pogba that stands now is the figure Manchester United wanted all along.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is getting the best out of him. Unlike Jose Mourinho who attempted to use Pogba as an orthodox central midfielder, the Norwegian has recognised how he can be utilised to greater effect higher up the pitch. Pogba’s best qualities are wasted as a defensive barrier in front of the back four or even as a box-to-box operator. Get him running with the ball in the final third as often as possible, though, and he is a force of nature.
“I think everyone in the team and Paul included are just focused on doing as well as we can this season,” Solskjaer recently explained when asked for an update on Pogba’s future. “I don’t think any energy would be used on the speculation. Of course, we’ve got discussions and talks. When you see Paul playing like he did against Milan, when you see him come back training, it shows how much he cares for us and how much he enjoys playing and how much we can benefit from having him here.”
Even from Pogba’s perspective, Old Trafford is the best place for him right now. United, on course for a second place finish in the Premier League and still in the Europa League, are progressing under Solskjaer. Juventus are reportedly most interested in signing Pogba, but would he really be better off in Turin, where Andrea Pirlo’s ageing team is currently slumped in third place in Serie A?
Manchester United have a lot of work to do in the transfer market this summer, with a new central defender a priority, but the best bit of business they could do is persuade Pogba to stay. They have got the player they always wanted and Pogba, it appears, has the platform he thought he would get at Old Trafford. The Frenchman can be the one to lead the club back to the top.
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