Paul Pogba and Manchester United: What now?
The words that follow are going to extremely tedious, so please accept my sincerest apologies. But I’m afraid we have to talk about Paul Pogba again.
At the weekend, he returned from injury and played pretty well, not just in scoring a brilliant and crucial goal – the kind of brilliant and crucial goal Manchester United signed him to score, which is also the kind of brilliant and crucial goal that he has very rarely scored for Manchester United – but in putting himself about, spreading play, making tackles and winning headers in his own box. It was lovely to see.
Then, the day before United’s most important game of the season so far – a game which Pogba was likely to start – his agent made clear his desire to leave Old Trafford immediately, presenting not a possibility but an inevitability.
The first thing to say is that although Mino Raiola is an attention-seeking mess who uses the ability of others to establish his own notoriety, that is not why he did it. He did it because in his mind, the best way of getting Pogba a January move – and for the lowest price, leaving more money for wages and agent fees – is to make his position at the club untenable.
There is something inherently uncomfortable about footballers’ contracts. Yes, the best ones are well paid, but that should not mean they forfeit their right to decide to whom they sell their labour. As such, if Pogba wants to leave United, United are morally obliged to facilitate that.
Except while he remains at United, Pogba is morally obliged to do his best – on the pitch but also off it – and allowing his agent to undermine the team in order to pursue his own ends is myopic, unnecessary and treacherous. There’s a price at which United will sell Pogba and a price at which they won’t sell Pogba, and Raiola cannot alter the egos and exchequers which decide how much that is.
The thing is, Ole Gunnar Solskjær would happily have sold Pogba the summer before last, except no one thought he was worth what he’d cost. And now, in a post-corona world where everyone has less money, and in a post-Bruno Fernandes world where everyone knows what a brilliant midfielder is, finding someone to gamble on a brilliant but unreliable talent is even harder.
So Raiola said what he said, weighing in with gratuitous criticism of Solskjær while he was at it. Which makes some sense – he is responsible for Pogba, not United and benefits from a broken system but isn’t responsible for that either. However, he is responsible for his own behaviour and how he makes his players look. There are other ways to do business – what manager or suit would invite this into their club? – and more than that, there are other ways to exist.