Mino Raiola speaks a lot. So much, in fact, that it is often best to ignore the notoriously brazen football agent. But when Raiola claimed in December 2020 that Paul Pogba’s career as a Manchester United player was “over”, it was impossible not to consider the consequences of the Frenchman’s looming exit.
Since then, not much has been said by Raiola, Pogba himself or anyone else on the midfielder’s future, but nothing has been resolved either. The 28-year-old is now into the final 12 months of his United contract with speculation continuing to swirl that a departure is in the offing.
But why would Pogba want to leave Old Trafford at this particular time? The Frenchman has had the misfortune of being at United during some lean times, when his teammates were nowhere near his own level, but there is a growing sense that those days have been left behind.
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Indeed, United’s squad is now one of the strongest in the Premier League, and will be even stronger once Jadon Sancho completes his £73m move to the club later this summer. Pogba is no longer the only world class player in the Old Trafford dressing room, as was the case a few years ago. Far from it.
If reports at the time were to be believed, Pogba initially plotted an escape from United to play at the top level of the European game. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, though, they have qualified for the Champions League in back-to-back seasons. Even more impressively, United finished second in the 2020/21 Premier League table.
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Pogba, it’s claimed, also wanted higher calibre teammates. Over the last two-and-a-half years, though, Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Edinson Cavani have been signed, with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw all improving. This is before the emergence of Mason Greenwood and the impending signing of Sancho is mentioned.
The second half of last season saw the best of Pogba as a Manchester United player. His man of the match performance in a 3-1 comeback win away to Tottenham Hotspur in April proved just how influential he can be in the right set-up, with the right teammates and a manager who trusts him.
Juventus and Real Madrid have been most strongly linked with a move for Pogba, but is either club in a better place than United are right now? At Juve, Pogba would be joining a club that only just scraped Champions League qualification last season while Real Madrid are in the midst of a generational transition. A switch to the Spanish capital would see the Frenchman concede his peak years to being part of a rebuilding job.
Paul Pogba (Manchester United) / Europa Ligue
Image credit: Getty Images
When United paid a then-world record fee of £89m to sign Pogba five years ago, they did so because they believed a team could be built around the Frenchman. This, however, demonstrated a gross misunderstanding of the sort of player Pogba is. He is not linchpin in the way N’Golo Kante or Casemiro is.
Instead, Pogba is a difference-maker who can only truly flourish in a well-built structure. Behind the ball, he needs someone to do a lot of the dirty work and ahead of the ball, he needs options. France have these things, which is why Pogba has often reserved his best form for the international arena.
Manchester United now appear to have a greater understanding of their own team and the role Pogba can play. From the club’s perspective, it would be galling to see a player who has suffered so much over the last few years leave just as circumstances are starting to suit him. And from Pogba’s standpoint, it would be peculiar timing to accept defeat when United are winning more and more.
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