Manchester United should put Paul Pogba up for sale. They should show their strength. They should transfer list their most expensive player – and he should agree to forego any loyalty payments or bonuses he is due by putting in a transfer request. He owes that to them. It is time for a clean break.
This dance has to end. I wrote in April that Pogba owed it to United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to stop the flirtation with Real Madrid and re-commit to the club by signing a new contract. It followed him saying that it was “a dream for any kid or footballer” to play for Madrid and especially under coach Zinedine Zidane.
At the time Solskjaer tried to explain that away as the midfielder being a “very nice and polite man” but no-one was fooled and, if they were, Pogba has now made it crystal-clear on a promotional tour with his sponsors, Adidas, to Japan that “it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else”.
That “somewhere else” would, ideally, be Madrid or, failing that, back to Juventus or even to Paris Saint-Germain... or somewhere else. Whatever club it is – and United should insist it is outside the Premier League – it is time for him to leave. It has become corrosive and wearisome and if there is a real drive at United this summer to “re-set” the club, to re-establish its values and identity, then here is its first big test.
There is an argument put forward at United that it is important to them that they have a number of players with what they term as the “X-factor”. Pogba is cited as top of that list. No-one doubts his talent. No-one doubts his personality and, above all, no-one doubts his commercial appeal and marketability.
But his commitment? It is not a new thing that he wants to leave. It has been going on for almost 12 months after Pogba returned as a World Cup winner with France and there was a hope from him and his agent, Mino Raiola, that he might force his way out quickly to Barcelona. Then there was the abrasive relationship with Jose Mourinho with, effectively, United understandably ending up backing the midfielder by sacking the manager.
And now this? United maintain that Pogba is not for sale, but why? Why try and keep him when he wants to go and when that has not only been affecting his performances but – along with the other over-paid underperformers at the club – has just not worked.
Financial logic only goes so far. United paid £89million for Pogba, he has a huge commercial benefit and they will want to maximise that and reap maybe £150m-£160m in the transfer market for the 26-year-old who should be peaking in his career. There is also two years left on his contract with, significantly, a 12-month option to extend weighted in United’s favour.
They are in a strong bargaining position. They will argue that they weaken that by transfer-listing him but if they did that they would be strengthening themselves. They would be showing the club is bigger than one player; that all this negative noise and chatter has to stop; that they can cut through that by backing the manager and the squad. They may have to accept less for Pogba than they want but the benefits would outweigh the negative especially if it is done quickly. Get him out.
Imagine what happens otherwise. United return to pre-season training next month and the agenda will be dominated by Pogba’s future, the future of a big personality who does not want to be there anymore and the effect that can also have on a dressing room which is brimming with frustration over such a disappointing campaign when various distractions caused damage.
There are players in that dressing room who already feel that Pogba should go. They already know he wants to go. So let him.
This is the summer to do it. This is the summer the United fans would accept it happening. Solskjaer has already braced them for more pain by talking about a long re-build and they have come unstuck too many times since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson with quick fixes and muddled decisions.
It will be a shame if Pogba goes. He is a huge talent but that talent has not been evident often enough. There was the two-month spike when Solskjaer, who has a good relationship with him, replaced Mourinho but it was not sustained and he still has not lived up to expectation, reputation or ability.
United’s best performance of last season? That would be the 3-1 away win at PSG in the last-16 of the Champions League when Pogba was in the stands, suspended. Clubs fret too much about having ‘big players’ over building a team. It would be interesting to see how Pep Guardiola at Manchester City or Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool responded to such a scenario as Solskjaer faces.
United are in a weak position - sixth in the league, only in the Europa League, morale low – but they can respond strongly. Sell now and they can re-invest quickly even if it is questionable whether they would re-invest wisely.
The fear is Pogba will go on to be outstanding at another club, as he can be, but the fact is it has not worked at United and sometimes you not only have to cut your losses but do what is best for the club and also the player. And the other players.
United surely cannot bear more distracting talk over Pogba’s future, over whether he is worth it or not. They have to be bigger than that. They have to be bigger than him.
It would be easier if United were in a stronger position, with a better squad – and there are other players who want to leave - but this is a chance to show their strength if they use the opportunity. Sometimes it just does not work out. Sometimes that has to be recognised.
What were Charlton thinking?
The statement announcing Lee Bowyer had parted company with Charlton Athletic was simply extraordinary. Maybe the club thought they were – for once – being transparent. What it appeared to be was a tasteless and petulant attempt to somehow portray their now former manager as the bad guy when to the fans he is a hero.
“Lee wanted much more,” the statement whined in trying to explain why an agreement had not been reached on either salary or the length of the deal for a man who did a remarkable job in guiding the club back into the Championship in another season of discontent and upheaval.
Apparently, Bowyer demanded to be paid in line with other managers in the Championship. “The owners [of other clubs] are crazy,” the statement said. Having endured the regime of Roland Duchatelet, Charlton fans will at least agree with that.