Manchester United’s to-do list already looks full for the offseason, but Paul Pogba‘s comments on Sunday in Japan during a promotional tour have compounded their problems.
“After this season and everything that happened this season, with my season being my best season as well,” Pogba told reporters, “I think for me it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else. I am thinking of this: to have a new challenge somewhere else.”
Is this a real desire to leave the Premier League giants or is this simply a ploy to speed up negotiations for a new contract, as some reports have suggested? Is this just Pogba having fun or Pogba sending a message? ESPN FC writers Gab Marcotti, Mark Ogden and Rob Dawson weigh in, along with ESPN FC editor Alex Shaw as to what this latest message could mean and how United should handle it.
Should Man United entertain Paul Pogba’s latest ‘desire’ to leave?
Gab Marcotti: It’s never a good idea to keep a player against his will, but United need to evaluate whether he wants to leave or whether there’s a specific destination he finds more appealing. They’re not the same thing.
Every indication is that he’s happy and settled at Old Trafford when it comes to everything bar the football. And, obviously, that needs to improve and he has to be part of that improvement. But it’s pretty evident that when he looks around at United’s other two world-class players, Marcus Rashford and David De Gea, and sees that both have serious contractual issues and, at the same time, if a very big club comes in for him and they can offer Champions League football and better teammates, sure, it’s going to be appealing.
All that said, he’s entering the fourth year of a five-year deal (albeit with a club option for a sixth) and that’s the natural time to talk about extensions. That may have something to do with Pogba’s latest comments as well.
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Mark Ogden: Yes. Quite simply, Pogba is the right player at the wrong time for Manchester United, and it would be best for both parties if he moved on. Pogba is a supreme talent but only when he is surrounded by players of a similar standard. At United, where the squad lacks top quality, his shortcomings are exacerbated and he can be a liability when opponents are on top.
Pogba’s lack of defensive awareness and his reluctance or inability to put in the hard yards is exposed repeatedly at United, but in a better team, other players would do the jobs he is ill-equipped to perform, leaving Pogba to focus purely on hurting opponents with his attacking skills. If he’s unhappy at United, the negativity from Pogba would only make matters worse at Old Trafford, so United should sell.
Liverpool cashed in on an unhappy Philippe Coutinho 18 months ago and reinvested the £142 million fee on Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, so there can be an upside to selling your most high-profile player.
Rob Dawson: It is a difficult situation. No club wants to keep a player who doesn’t want to be there, but on the flip side, selling Pogba makes United’s huge rebuild even bigger.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has enough problems to fix without having to replace his best player and the club may have to work out some kind of compromise to buy himself some time. It may be that Solskjaer tries to convince Pogba to stay for another season on the understanding they will listen to offers next summer. The difficulty there, though, is that fans are already unhappy Pogba has publicly stated he wants to leave and might get a rough ride at Old Trafford next season.
In the end, it may come down to Solskjaer’s judgement. If Pogba is going to sulk, he should go. If he’s going to get his head down, work hard, play well and get the fans back onside, then that’s something Solskjaer can work with — even if it’s only for a year.
Alex Shaw: If United had a defined structure, culture and good reputation for making smart transfers, they should cash in on Pogba. Unfortunately, they don’t and of the 28 players to have signed in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, only three players (Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic) have been qualified successes. The rest, including Pogba, have either flopped spectacularly or not delivered enough.
Pogba is definitely in the latter camp but executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has proven to be out of his depth when it comes to matters on the field. Every manager he has appointed has failed, the transfers have verged from misfits to has-beens to never-weres and a director of football still has not been appointed.
United are a total mess and need all the help they can get and that includes Pogba. Even when he’s distracted or off his game, he still has more natural talent than the rest of his midfield teammates.
If they decide to cash in, what kind of price should they hold out for and what should they do with the money?
Marcotti: It depends who the buyer is and how badly he wants to leave. I think given the fact that he’s 26 and given some of the other fees out there, something in the £130m range isn’t unrealistic. And let’s cut to the chase: very few clubs can even contemplate that fee so you’re talking about Real Madrid and maybe one or two others. Given their financial situation, maybe you think of a player-plus-cash deal, but like I said, I wouldn’t sell him unless he really, really wants to go.
Ogden: United paid a world record £89m fee to sign Pogba from Juventus in August 2016 and although many would argue that he has not repaid that figure, the reality is that the transfer market has rocketed and it would now cost at least £120m to sign the France midfielder. At 26 and with three years remaining on his contract, Pogba is at the height of his value to United: the £142m spent by Barcelona on Coutinho in January 2018 and Real Madrid’s move for the 28-year-old Eden Hazard (which could be worth up to £130m) will be used as benchmark’s for Pogba.
Dawson: United signed Pogba for £89m in 2016 a year before the Neymar deal sent player valuations through the roof. He is under contract until 2021 and United hold an option to keep him for another 12 months. He is a World Cup winner and one of the most recognisable players in the world who, at 26, should be at the peak of his powers.
If Ed Woodward decides to sell — and there’s no indication at this stage that he has — he would be well within his rights to hold out for a fee of between £130-150m. Hazard is two years older than Pogba and was entering the final 12 months of his contract at Chelsea, but Real Madrid were still convinced to pay a fee that could rise to £130m. Woodward will be looking for more.
Shaw: Any fee would have to be north of £100 million to tempt United into selling. The jarring thing from the fans’ perspective is when the player talks of wanting a “new challenge.” He hasn’t even completed this challenge yet, falling way short of the level you expect from a player that cost a then-world-record £89.3m when he joined in 2016.
What do Man United need most this summer outside of Pogba?
Marcotti: First and foremost, sort out Marcus Rashford‘s contract and figure out what you want to do with David De Gea. It’s pretty grotesque that it’s gotten to this stage, with their undisputed No. 1 having less than a year to go on his current deal. In terms of positional needs, they could use a right-back, a central defender and two central midfielders while also upgrading their winger/attacking midfield corps: it would be a tall order for a club that’s run well to tick all these boxes.
Ogden: Solskjaer could quite easily improve every position in his United team this summer, from goalkeeper to centre-forward, so it is not a case of identifying one or two priorities. But United can’t buy 11 new players. Therefore, they must rectify their most glaring weaknesses and hope that the rest of the squad raises their game.
Defensively, United are desperate for reinforcements: a commanding centre-half and reliable right-back are the top priorities. They also need creativity, goals and energy in midfield — qualities that Pogba has, but ones he has only shown in fleeting glimpses. Up front, United are well-stocked with talent but too many of their forwards are not showing their best, so a new, proven goalscorer should also be high on Solskjaer’s hit-list.
Dawson: There is an argument that Solskjaer needs to improve every area of his squad but that’s not possible over one transfer window. He needs a centre-back and right-back and moves are underway to secure both. On top of that, there has been a gaping hole on the right wing for too long. Last season, United conceded too many goals and did not score enough, which says everything about the scale of the task facing Solskjaer this summer.
Shaw: Where do you even start? A director of football is paramount, as Woodward has failed time and time again to improve matters on the pitch. A shift in transfer strategy is also important, with United too often suckered into signing stellar names rather than players who fit a system.