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For modern superstars like Pogba, it pays to be ambivalent

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Big-name players in this era have learned that loyalty only weakens your leverage

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

When the international window starts and newspapers struggle to fill their pages with the same level of content as provided by club football, the natural cage-rattling of supposedly unsettled footballers begins in earnest. Paulo Dybala is linked to Bayern Munich, Neymar is linked to Barcelona and inevitably, Paul Pogba is linked with a move away from Manchester United.

Pogba had pulled out of the French side due to injury so it might have been a quiet window for the Frenchman. It doesn’t help the Manchester United media department however when their star player is photographed with Lionel Messi in Dubai, nor do the rumblings of his agent Mino Raiola supposed telling Pogba to ‘sit tight’ as he plots the Frenchman’s move away from Manchester United. Pogba is regularly featured on social media with players from other teams, and given his links to Barcelona in August, the photographs with Messi drew attention.

Transfer rumours like these have happened before with Pogba and other players. They swirled around Cristiano Ronaldo from 2006 until his departure in 2009. The sad fact however is that it is very rare for these rumours to persist without a subsequent departure. David De Gea’s ill-fated move to Real Madrid in 2015 is one of the few examples of a transfer saga which resulted in the player staying at their original club.

The Pogba rumour-mongering gives the fans a sure-fire sense of anxiety. A talent of his calibre is what the supporters believe Manchester United should be built around; especially given how long it took to coax the Frenchman back to Old Trafford.

The problem for United however, is that this uncertainty is highly beneficial to players and their agents. It drives their marketability through the roof and eases the job of agents hoping to drive a more lucrative deal when contracts, or even transfers are being negotiated.

The Instagram post with Messi fuelled talk that Pogba may be laying the groundwork for a move to Barcelona. While Romelu Lukaku was still an Everton player, he appeared in Paul Pogba’s Instagram posts prior to his move to United. Lukaku and Pogba shared an agent at the time and it is notable this friendship, and these posts, appeared to cool-off once Lukaku had earned his move to Old Trafford.

The classic club stalwart, the dedicated player who loves the club and its community are now confined to history. The likes of Gerry Daly, joining Manchester United from Bohemians in Ireland in 1973 (subsequently leaving in 1977) and living in the Manchester area for his entire life are a thing of the past. The agent era has fostered a generation of players who commit to clubs in the short term, and their value is greater the more tenuous their link to the club and its area is.

Alex Ferguson complained in Managing My Life that then Chairman Martin Edwards was only too well aware of Ferguson’s commitment to the club, and this put Ferguson’s contract negotiations at a massive disadvantage. Roy Keane, once stated that joining Manchester United was probably the happiest day of his life before admitting in his book The Second Half, that he had cried upon his exit from the club in 2005. Keane was the last of his type of player, those who appeared truly privileged and humbled to play for Manchester United.

At a time when a number of Manchester United’s top players are renegotiating their contracts, it makes little sense for Pogba to put the fans at ease. What does make financial sense however is for Paul Pogba to superficially commit to the club while maintaining overall ambivalence, thus allowing Mino Raiola to work behind the scenes to earn a more lucrative contract.

Whether Paul Pogba truly loves Manchester, whether he would pick the Frankie and Benny’s at the Trafford Centre above any other eatery, or whether he might end up at the Grove some night of his own accord are still not apparent. He might enjoy the nightlife in Deansgate and the food at Mr Wings, but choose to keep these opinions to himself for the health of his bank balance. For Pogba and others like him, it pays to be ambivalent.

The Roy Keanes and Gerry Dalys of this world are a thing of the past. Squeaky Bum Time, a term Sir Alex Ferguson once coined, now refers to the bi-monthly international football windows where newspapers and agents serve their own dual interests, intensifying uncertainty over players’ futures and making financial gains at the cost of the clubs and their fans.

Paul Pogba is unlikely to declare his undying love for Manchester United and commit his long term future to the club. It doesn’t mean Pogba doesn’t enjoy playing for Manchester United, but it would suggest that it makes no sense to take the fans out of their misery.

Who knows; maybe Paul Pogba will settle down in Altrincham one day.