“It’s Over for Paul Pogba at Manchester United”

On Mino Raiola’s perplexingly-timed comments, why the timing was so poor, and what it means for all parties moving forward…

Earlier yesterday, football super-agent Mino Raiola made the, let’s say interesting, decision to give an interview with Italian outlet Tuttosport regarding Paul Pogba’s situation with Manchester United. The Frenchman’s contract at United expires at the end of next season, and there was apparently some momentum toward a renewal at the end of last season. That appears to not be the case anymore. Raiola claims that Pogba is unhappy in Manchester and wants to leave the club instead of signing the new deal that he appeared to be wanting to sign mere months ago. He hinted at a potential move back to Juventus, and Pogba has had some flirtations with Real Madrid in the past, but the main point of the information that has come out is that Pogba wants to leave the club and wants to do it as soon as possible.

I had some immediate thoughts when I read this interview, mainly revolving around the relationship between Pogba and Man United, as well as the potential interest from clubs that would be in the market for the Frenchman come the summer window (or potentially winter window). My main thought revolving around this interview is just how perplexing and, dare I say, horrendously poorly timed it is.

Now, I am not a football agent. I am not privy to the conversations happening behind closed doors, and I am definitely not privy to discussions within the team and boardroom at Man United. Raiola is a very successful agent with a laundry list of brilliant and well-paid footballers as his clients. He is obviously a very good agent, but despite all of that, I just do not see the logic behind holding this interview and saying what he said. It can be interpreted as a desire to get Pogba out of United or a way to scare the club into adding more money into Pogba’s impending contract renewal, but either way, it is horrendously mistimed and seemingly lacks any positives from an outsider point-of-view. Pogba wanting to leave the club should not be a shock to anyone. He has been very publicly flirting with Juventus and Real Madrid basically since he won the World Cup with France, so none of this is really much of a surprise. Why say this now, though? The timing could not be worse. Man United have their biggest game of the season so far later today, their final Champions League group stage match against RB Leipzig. Pogba is also not a full lock in the United first team as things seem, and he is coming off of easily his best performance of the season in their 3-1 win over West Ham. What good does dropping this interview do for his position within the team and within the dressing room? Does Raiola believe dropping this bombshell the day before an incredibly significant match will have no impact on his player or on United? Pogba has worked hard to get back into the good graces of Ole Gunnar Solskjær and of United fans, and this will further ruin it for no good reason. This does not particularly enhance their bargaining position should they be wanting to renew, as this will further anger the United hierarchy and make them more likely to sell Pogba at the first chance they get.

If Raiola wants to force a move away from United, then he has done a good job at making Pogba appear as more of an expendable dressing room issue than as a valuable and immovable member of the squad. The problem is that this perception will be on full display for the entire football world to see. Will Juventus want to take on a player that could cause these kinds of issues the moment things start going poorly? Would Real Madrid want these issues? Pogba is a fantastic player who has a reputation that I do not believe is fully warranted, but any prominent Raiola player is going to bring baggage to any team they move to. Would that be worth it for any club, especially with other incredibly talented central midfielders like Houssem Aouar, Eduardo Camavinga, and Rúben Neves on the market as well? Would renewing Pogba’s contract be worth it for United, who have an incredibly talented player in Donny van de Beek sitting on the bench? That is my point: this does not help Pogba in any way. If he wants to renew, this worsens their negotiating position. If he wants to leave, this ruins his image among other clubs in a market with quite a few talented players in his position. This also just adds loads of unneeded pressure onto Pogba’s back, makes him a target of criticism and insult from the media, and ruins whatever good will he was building up following the West Ham match. It is baffling to me. I do not understand Raiola’s thought process.

Ok, so what does this all mean? Well, as stated above, Pogba is in quite a situation. If he wanted to renew at United, that has now become more difficult. If he wanted to leave, then finding a suitor might potentially be that much harder. The two clubs at the top of his list have always been Juventus and Real Madrid, and both clubs are in the market for a player of Pogba’s talent and skill set. There were some doubts around both moves, though, and these comments might make it much harder. Real Madrid did not make a single signing this past summer, and it is largely believed that they were pooling resources together to make a move this coming summer window for Kylian Mbappé and Eduardo Camavinga. Would they have the money to bring in both Mbappé and Pogba? Would they even have the need to bring in Pogba if they were also able to sign Camavinga? With how they are performing this season, it is possible that Zinedine Zidane will not be Los Blancos manager next season, so would a change in manager benefit this move? Would the incoming manager be as keen on bringing in Pogba as Zidane seemed to be? Would Zidane or whomever the potential new Real Madrid manager would be, or even the Real Madrid board, want to bring in a Raiola client (there are currently none on the books at Real Madrid)? There are many questions surrounding a move to Real Madrid that makes it seem less possible, though a player of Pogba’s talent and pedigree is hard to turn down.

A move to Juventus would be simpler. Pogba is fond of Juventus, has a good relationship with the fans, board, and current manager/former teammate Andrea Pirlo, and Raiola has a good relationship with Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, enough to get several of his clients (most notably Matthijs de Ligt) in at the club on good deals. A move, in principle, could be straight forward. However, Juventus’ financial difficulties since bringing in Cristiano Ronaldo’s significant salary have not been a well-kept secret. Would they be able to handle bringing Pogba in on top of that as well? Would that be a sign that Ronaldo is considering leaving? If Ronaldo does leave, would that dissuade Pogba from coming? Juventus have been in desperate need for quality, competent midfielders, and they have been publicly pursuing Lyon’s Houssem Aouar over the last several months. If Pogba became available, would they still prioritize Aouar over him? It might be a binary choice for them between the two French midfielders. It is difficult to fully tell, to be honest. Pogba seems to want a move back to Juventus, and Juve seems to want to bring him back. It is unclear whether there would be financial barriers to a potential move that could stop it from happening, however, so doubts do remain.

I think this interview is a sign that Pogba wants to leave. I had my doubts about the stories regarding him renewing at United, as it seemed like they died down as quickly as they sprung up with no progress at all between the two parties over several months. With only a year and a half left on his deal, I imagine he will push for a move in the next summer window, bearing through what might become a hellish final year in Manchester.

What should United do? Quite simple: they need to sell the player for as much as they are able to get by the end of the next summer transfer window. Pogba is an incredibly talented, potentially one-of-a-kind midfielder who is very influential on the pitch for United when he is at his best. He has not always been at his best since arriving in Manchester, but the uncertainty and upheaval within the club over the last several years has likely played a part in that. Despite this, it is time for United to cut their losses and sell the player, regardless of whether he wants to sign a new deal or not. If he wants to leave, then they need to sell as soon as possible, ideally before the next summer window, in order to get the most money in return. If he wants to stay, it still is not really worth it for United to keep him. At his best, he is brilliant, but how often are they able to get the best out of him? Yes, as I said previously, the upheaval at the club has likely impacted his and his teammates performances, but it cannot be solely pinned on that. The player is at part responsible. At times, he is seemingly a net negative for the team due to his lack of defensive work rate, which is important in Ole’s system for his double pivot, as well as a tendency to disappear in some matches. Pogba is 27, he does not have that much long left at his physical peak, and when you have the ideal replacement for him sitting on the bench in the 23-year-old Donny van de Beek, it does not make much sense to keep him at the club. Van de Beek is not as good as Pogba right now, but he is still a very talented player who has performed well when he has been given the chance to feature. Losing Pogba would not be a big deal for the United team; it is a move that could happen and not be as influentially negative on the team as United losing Bruno Fernandes or Marcus Rashford.

United also kind of need the money. They obviously are not poor, and they did spend well in the last summer window, but getting a good fee for Pogba would allow them to spread that money throughout the squad into positions where they need reinforcement. They could use the money to sign a center back partner for Harry Maguire or for a defensive midfielder that could fit in well next to Fernandes and van de Beek. They could also use the money to sign Jadon Sancho, the player they very publicly failed to sign last summer, or really any other right winger that could complete that front three. Will the club spend that money wisely? Who knows; I certainly have my doubts about Ed Woodward’s leadership in the transfer market for United, but the possibility is there. Selling a player that is not exactly crucial for the first team could lead to very important upgrades that could take United from being on the edge of the Top Four/Six frame to being direct title contenders. Remember when Liverpool sold Philippe Coutinho? Coutinho was an incredibly talented player who very publicly wanted to leave Liverpool, and the club allowed him to leave for Barcelona. Klopp then took the money that was earned from his sale and used it to finance moves for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, who were crucial in their Champions League and Premier League title wins. The same principle applies here. Sell Pogba, sign improvements for positions throughout the squad, and United will be one step closer to contending for a league title.

This interview was unexpected, and the bombshell quote about Pogba’s future was even more unexpected. I am baffled by Raiola’s decision to do this, and I do not think it is beneficial for him or Pogba moving forward, but what’s done is done. United need to sell Pogba, with Juventus being the likely destination. Pogba is a fantastic player, but he is not immovable, and it is time for United to make decisive action in order to improve their entire squad.

Sometimes break-ups in a relationship are best for all parties involved. This is one of those times.

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