The French word for ‘loyalty’ is the ever more romantic sounding fidélité. The translation might be important as it looks increasingly likely that Paul Pogba will leave Manchester United for a second time.
Wantaway stars are nothing new to any club, let alone Manchester United. Some clubs struggle more than others to hold their high-end talent. Being a club beyond the top five or six in the Premier League guarantees your best players will eventually want to want to leave, and there seems little protection for those above that level either. Players like Matt Le Tissier do not exist in the Premier League anymore. Few expect Ruben Neves or Richarlison to be at Wolves and Everton this time next year should their current form continue.
Paul Pogba said this week, ‘My future is currently in Manchester, I still have a contract, I’m playing there at the moment, but who knows what will happen in the next few months…’. This statement should not surprise anyone. Pogba is not the first person to court offers from other teams. Cristiano Ronaldo would not commit to Manchester United, and shamelessly flirted with the European elite during the World Cup in 2006 and European Championships in 2008. David De Gea more covertly courted a move in 2014 and 2015.
The idea that Pogba would suggest his future lies away from the club he re-joined in 2016, the club he once claimed his mother told him he would always re-join, should come as no surprise. Clients of Mino Raiola frequently move clubs, chasing that bigger deal and ultimately bigger commissions for their agent. Between 2004 and 2016, Zlatan Ibrahimović played for 7 different clubs. Raiola clients do not tend to build dynasties.
Raiola has been a divisive figure in recent months. He has been outspoken in his criticism of Manchester United, its manager and its former players, specifically Paul Scholes. Raiola tweeted “Paul Scholes should become sports director and advise Woodward to sell Pogba. Would be sleepless nights to find Pogba a new club.” This is incendiary talk from Pogba’s representative, and Pogba was no doubt wholly aware of his agents’ actions. Raiola is an agent, are his comments even important? Raiola clients appear beguiled by his outlandish behaviour, acceding to his excesses and granting him fully autonomy in the knowledge that having Mino in your corner guarantees more and more of that filthy lucre.
A pitiful deadline day bid from Barcelona – fifty million euros with Yerry Mina and Andre Gomes in exchange – would have only been made when Raiola - and by extension - Pogba had already agreed to the proposed deal. Pogba earned an impressive £3.4m loyalty bonus — contractually stipulated — last month for staying at Manchester United. It is evident that no amount of money will inspire absolute loyalty in Paul Pogba.
The Pogba stories stem from his suspected poor working relationship with José Mourinho. Pogba famously told the media, “There are things I can say and there are things I cannot say... otherwise I will get fined.” His candour this week really makes you wonder how scathing his comments will be one day.
Fans were unquestionably dismayed by what Pogba said this week. They fear losing their World Cup winning hero and dread the consequences this will have for the team.
The problem is though, that this Pogba situation is different to that of Cristiano Ronaldo or even David De Gea. Ronaldo and De Gea were important, game-winning players for Manchester United. The reality is that in the last two years, Paul Pogba has not reached this standard. Pogba has impressed on occasion but has not bossed games consistently for United in the way that Ronaldo did. United fans seem in love with the ideal of Pogba; that marauding, domineering heir to Zidane, not the actual Pogba who has played for Manchester United.
Think of Paul Pogba’s most memorable games, and the World Cup victories over Argentina and Croatia come to mind. Pogba has rarely performed to that level for United and has not reached the levels expected of the Frenchman at this stage of his career.
Fans will look for a scapegoat and José Mourinho is an easy option. Mourinho is not to blame for the failure of Paul Pogba. Mourinho was criticised for playing Pogba in a deep role early last season, the very role he excelled in for France against Argentina. Pogba needs to take responsibilities for his own performances, and his own shortcomings.
It would be a disappointment to see Paul Pogba depart Manchester United before reaching his true potential as a footballer. Pogba will probably wear the colours of FC Barcelona next season. His move will be tinged with regret, not of his leaving, but of the fact that he never reached the elite level expected of him at Manchester United. He will join the pantheon of post-Sir Alex Ferguson signings; Ángel Dí Maria, Falcao and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – potentially brilliant players who did not grasp the nettle on greatest stage in Manchester.
Clubs do not like to see wantaway stars, but this will now be Pogba’s second time leaving United. Despite the pretence, ‘fidélité’ does not appear to be in Paul Pogba’s dictionary. Never having seen the Frenchman shine consistently for United, the club might be best placed to cash in on his star power, demand a hefty fee and hope that the clubs’ next role of the dice proves more fruitful.