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Pogba to stay at United?

When José Mourinho joined Manchester United, his four summer signings suggested a man doing all he could to negate his worst impulses. Surely it would be impossible for him to impose joyless caution on a team containing Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

It would not. Mourinho quickly discarded Mkhitaryan with retrospectively good reason, while Bailly was constantly injured and Ibrahimovic ultimately injured, while, in the meantime, his elemental differences with Pogba turned out to be irreconcilable differences too. Eventually, the relationship deteriorated to such extent that the best player in United’s squad – by far – was ostentatiously omitted from crucial games that were rarely won, as Mourinho went about shitting in as many earholes as it took to get himself fired.

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over, Pogba was immediately rejuvenated, playing beautifully as United put together a barely-believable winning run. But as soon as things turned, his form dropped, and had United received a decent offer for him last summer, the chances are that he would’ve left.

It is easy to blame everyone but Pogba for what has been a disappointing United career so far, and almost as easy to blame Pogba, but the reality, though is somewhere in between. There have been games in which it’s fair to expect someone as talented as Pogba to have played better; there have been other games in which it’s fair to expect someone as dedicated as Pogba to have run harder.

But the situation is more complicated than that. In any job, it is possible for workers to become disillusioned – especially if their employer does not share their ambition and surrounds them with incompetence while refusing to grasp what they need to succeed. This is precisely what happened to Pogba. When he joined United, he was sold a vision of a club poised to recapture old glories, only to find that the Glazers had no interest in providing the money necessary to rebuild the squad. Meanwehile, Mourinho succumbed to himself, and Solskjaer’s ability as a manager was unclear.

Naturally there were people peddling the “If I played for United I’d run till I died” line, but ths is a load of bollocks; professional sport is hard, and motivation matters. It is no coincidence that David de Gea, United’s only other world-class player, has also declined over the last two seasons, safe in the knowledge that there was no chance of him being replaced and even less chance of United challenging for the big pots. In such circumstances, it is not easy to maintain focus.

There has also been a fundamental misunderstanding of what Pogba is. Mourinho signed him to be a totem, but he is not a dominator; someone who can elevate a crap team into a good team. To thrive, he needs players around him who can get him the ball, show for the ball, and do something with the ball; for the first time in his United career, he now has that.

As such, the chances are he will sign a new contract: the team is winning, he is happy, and most clubs are skint. So, for United, it’s a no-brainer; if buying a player of Pogba’s calibre is hard, selling Pogba to buy a player of Pogba’s calibre is mad.

Daniel Harris


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