Manchester United staff greeted news of Paul Pogba’s publicly stated desire to leave Old Trafford with a weary sigh.
It was, after all, nothing new.
Last August, Pogba’s high-profile agent Mino Raiola put together a deal for the France midfielder to join Barcelona. Four months before that, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola revealed Raiola had offered Pogba to him.
It is the kind of agitation that persuaded Sir Alex Ferguson to get rid of Pogba back in 2012, the former United boss concluding that the Frenchman’s undoubted talent was not worth the hassle that came with having him around.
Pogba is a brilliant player. A World Cup winner. It may have been a surprise to many but he was the only non-City or Liverpool player to make it into last season’s PFA Premier League team of the year.
As the impact of Pogba’s interview in Tokyo sank in, the message from United was the same as it was last year. They have no interest in selling their £89m record signing and expect him to be in their squad when they open their Premier League campaign against Chelsea on 11 August.
On social media at least, many United supporters lamented their club’s stance. To them, as with Ferguson, the 26-year-old is not worth it.
Yet, there are some very good reasons why the club are in no rush to push Pogba out.
Pogba described his return to Manchester United in 2016 as “destiny”. It certainly did not happen by accident. This was a deal club officials had been pushing for from the moment Ferguson retired in 2013.
Senior United staff felt the Frenchman possessed both the ability and charisma to make a positive contribution at Old Trafford, and over the past three seasons there have been moments when Pogba’s talent has shone brightly.
In the Premier League alone, he has scored 24 times and produced 23 assists in 95 games. During that period, United have come sixth twice and second once.
The comparable figures for Manchester City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne are 16 goals and 36 assists from 92 appearances, and the Belgian has played in a team that has just won back-to-back titles.
In addition, Pogba scored the opener in United’s Europa League final win over Ajax in Stockholm in 2017.
Balanced against this has to come doubts over the player’s commitment and attitude. Former boss Jose Mourinho was so annoyed by Pogba that, last season, he told him he would never captain United again while he was at the club. It was telling that in Mourinho’s final game, a 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on 16 December, Pogba remained on the bench throughout.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer chose to put his faith in Pogba when he succeeded Mourinho. The reward was eight goals and six assists in the first 10 games Pogba played for the Norwegian. The outcome was eight wins and two draws.
The next 10 were a different story. Pogba’s contribution was two penalties.
The team’s form faded alongside the Frenchman’s: two wins, three draws – including an embarrassing one at Huddersfield – and five defeats, ending with the tepid home loss to already relegated Cardiff.
It begs the question: is Pogba a symptom of United’s inconsistency, or one of the main causes?
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