Manchester United fans have reacted with bemusement and excitement when news broke that the club have not triggered a 1-year contract extension on midfielder Paul Pogba’s contract – but what does that mean for his future?
Pogba is approaching the end of his contract he signed when returning to Old Trafford in a then-world record £89 million ($109 million) deal in the summer of 2016 from Juventus but the Frenchman’s lackluster displays and apathetic attitude have constantly called into question whether his services are really required by the Red Devils.
United’s failure to exercise the option to keep Pogba at the club until 2022 means that the World Cup-winner would technically be out of contract next summer and has fuelled talk he will be leaving Manchester for Real Madrid, an ongoing saga which has been enthusiastically fuelled by ubiquitous superagent and Pogba adviser Mino Raiola.
The Italian-born Dutchman values his client at £180million and has twice tried to maneuver a move to Madrid, including attempts last summer and in mid-February and speculation has unsurprisingly arose that a third time could be the charm.
The arrival and successful start of Portuguese maestro Bruno Fernandes, the resurgence of Brazilian Fred and the increasingly impressive displays from academy product Scott McTominay in midfield, has cast further doubt over Pogba’s place in the starting XI, especially as United’s number 6 has become a bit-part player this season after succumbing to numerous ankle injuries.
However, the star’s indifferent attitude towards commitment to the cause off the field, which includes spending extended periods away from the squad in luxury warm weather training camps in Dubai, has given the impression his interests lie elsewhere.
That belief has been compounded by comments last summer from the player that “it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else”, and a recent Instagram video in which he was pictured wearing a Juventus jersey.
It seems United aren’t missing their record signing on the pitch, either. At the time the Premier League was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic United hadn’t been beaten since a shock 2-0 home defeat to Burnley in January and had reached the FA Cup quarter-finals as well as all but assuring their place in the same stage of the Europa League with a huge 5-0 win over LASK behind closed doors.
According to the Manchester Evening News, the club remain ‘relaxed’ about the midfielder’s future, and have rejected the ‘plus-one’ option in the contract in an attempt to quell speculation around the 27-year-old’s potential move away from M16. That plan seems to have backfired somewhat.
Despite Raiola’s best efforts and Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane being a long time admirer of the player, Man United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward would unlikely want to let the player go, not least for his commercial value while at the club.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already spoken of his wish to retain a player who played for his U18s side in his first spell at United, but it’s not known the extent of the Norwegian’s influence regarding any deal.
The second question would undoubtedly be who would replace the Frenchman’s presence in United’s squad. Despite the dominant displays of Fernandes, Fred, McTominay and even the less mobile Nemanja Matic during United’s purple patch this season, that midfield four would benefit endlessly from even the intermittent appearance of Pogba, who is unquestionably a world-beater on his day.
When all said and done – and there is a lot to be said while little has actually been done – Man United’s move looks like a pre-emptive strike to keep the rumour mill from accelerating through the summer.
In reality, it doesn’t look as if the club will be keen on ridding themselves of their prize asset – whether on or off the pitch – without a considerable fight, negotiation process, and sum of money.