Jose Mourinho might be gathering most of the criticism but the atmosphere around the club’s star midfielder has deteriorated to a terrible extent
Many of the landmark Manchester United signings in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era have been duds. That goes without saying.
Big money has been lavished on the likes of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez and Angel Di Maria with little in the way of a return on field. Paul Pogba is unquestionably in danger of falling into that category.
Jose Mourinho’s future is currently uncertain, with short odds being offered on him being in charge next season and the atmosphere surrounding Pogba at the minute would appear to suggest that he could be on the way out of the Old Trafford exit door sooner rather than later.
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Paris Saint-Germain are the latest club to be linked with a move for Pogba, with Goal revealing on Friday that their superstar forward Neymar has been in touch to sound him out about a move to the French capital. And Paris would be a suitable destination for a variety of reasons.
Straight off, he would improve their team. PSG were frustrated in their admittedly low-key approach for N’Golo Kante in summer and they need another midfielder. With Adrien Rabiot’s contract expiring and Thiago Motta retired they need another high-class operator in that sector.
They need someone who can start the big matches, someone who can meet expectations and someone who can improve one of the few areas of the team where they actually do have room for improvement.
And who better than a local boy like Pogba, who was born just a few miles from Paris city centre?
That’s the kind of signing PSG are desperate for; Thomas Tuchel, their coach, has made a big deal this season about giving minutes to local academy boys. Pogba would give them the perfect blend of having global recognition but being steeped in the local culture.
OK, he’s not the same kind of troubleshooting midfielder as Kante but he would easily ameliorate one of the two midfield places ahead of that position in the team.
Furthermore, PSG appear hellbent on world domination. Since being acquired by the Qatar sovereign wealth fund in 2011, the capital side have set their sights far beyond the French borders. They want to make a global impact. Neymar was signed for that express purpose and it’s working.
That transfer bought them legitimacy and recognition across the football landscape. Kylian Mbappe winning the World Cup did it twofold. Jersey sellers across popular European resorts now report boxes of unsold Real Madrid shirts and kids instead carrying off tops with the names of Mbappe and Neymar across their backs.
SportsPro, a leading Sports Business magazine, recently compiled their list of most marketable athletes in the world for 2018. Pogba was top, with Anthony Joshua in second, coming between Pogba and his France team-mate Mbappe.
PSG in that regard currently account for two of the four most marketable footballers on earth, in Mbappe and 16th-place Neymar. To add the top man, Pogba, to their stable of stars would do wonders for the PSG brand. Their recent hook-up with Air Jordan, meanwhile, represents a transparent effort to make PSG relevant Stateside. Only time will tell how it works out.
PSG were severely hampered in the recent summer transfer window due to Financial Fair Play (FFP) restrictions. They sold on players worth just under €100m between them in order to come in with an acceptable budget and to comply with UEFA’s break-even regulations.
The likes of Goncalo Guedes, Javier Pastore, Yuri Berchiche, Odsonne Edouard and Jonathan Ikone brought in transfer fees and the departures – either on loan or permanently – of Thiago Motta, Hatem Ben Arfa, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kevin Trapp and Giovanni Lo Celso also helped bring down the wage bill.
UEFA, for its part, remains unconvinced. The European football governing body has referred the PSG case back to the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) Investigatory Chamber despite clearing the club earlier in the year.
There is still huge money going on the likes of Neymar, Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and the rest, but PSG appear confident of meeting their budgetary obligations going forward.
A move there would do wonders for Pogba himself. He has won the Europa League and the League Cup since moving back to Manchester United but in the peak years of his career a player like Pogba should be setting his sights higher.
He is playing in a team that patently doesn’t suit him and is stuck in a rut. He has next-to-no chance of competing for the Premier League or Champions League any time soon. Before he knows it, his prime title-winning years will be behind him.
Yes, the argument goes that Pogba isn’t doing enough to warrant a link to a better team than United and it’s true, there have been errors in his game this season. But he is in the wrong ecosystem to thrive and looks like a player in desperate need of a fresh start.
He showed at Juventus and for France at the World Cup what he could do with better team-mates around him. The talent is there, the ability is there, the class is there but Manchester United is not the best environment to draw it out.
Thanks to his big-mouth agent Mino Raiola, he has fallen foul of United legends of the past such as Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. And there is a consensus emanating from that group that United might be no worse off without Pogba in the team now; that his very presence is a lightning rod for negativity and a distraction from the hard work needed to get the club back on track.
“Paul, if you want to go play somewhere else, let’s make that work for you because Manchester United will be fine, don’t worry about that,” Neville wrote in The Times this week.
While Mourinho has his critics, there would appear to be a wide acceptance in recent weeks that Pogba has been out of line. Mourinho last season picked a fight with Pogba by leaving him out of key matches and playing Scott McTominay instead. The message then was that on-field discipline and total tactical adherence would come ahead of talent.
While Pogba is safely locked under a contract until 2021 at the earliest, United might well be tempted to cut their losses and move on – whether Mourinho is there or not.