Paul Higham says whether Paul Pogba leaves or not is not the real question, it's how Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deal with either decision.
Paul Pogba has been the talk of the transfer window all summer long and we still seem no closer to a resolution on his future as he begins pre-season with Manchester United while previously stating his desire to seek a new challenge elsewhere.
He’s undoubtedly one of the biggest names but also one of the biggest problems in world football right now, and the big question on everyone’s lips is should Manchester United cash in and sell up, or keep hold of the player to then spearhead their revival?
Perhaps, though, just perhaps, there is no right answer to this big Pogba puzzle, perhaps the bigger issue for United is how they deal with whichever scenario plays out before the start of the season.
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True, they’ve a huge decision to make on whether they really want to try and keep Pogba or move him on but, in this modern football world where perception and PR is everything, how the club look after either decision is more important than the decision itself.
Much depends, of course, on whether Manchester United actually want to keep Pogba or let him go, but if we take Solskjaer at face value in that he wants to build his team around Pogba, then allowing him to leave would be hugely damaging to their standing in football.
Top players don’t usually leave Old Trafford unless they’re told to, and what’s at stake here is more than just keeping hold of a big-name player, but United’s position as one of the top clubs in the world.
We’re used to seeing the balance of power between club and player tested, but those sorts of things don’t usually occur at Manchester United – and losing Pogba against their will could even hurt their chances of attracting other star names.
So just how will this Pogba puzzle be concluded? In truth, whether he goes or stays, Manchester United will live on, but whether they come out of this looking strong or weak depends largely on how they handle every eventuality..
If Pogba leaves
Man Utd win if… They have a plan. Pogba is a good player, not a great player in my view, and if they can get back more than they paid Juventus for him then that could be job done in terms of positive PR. In terms of the team going forward, if that cash is invested wisely then the future could well be brighter at Old Trafford.
Solskjaer seems to have a firm idea in his mind of how he wants to play and what type of player he wants in his squad, and an extra £100m or so in the proverbial war chest would do wonders to get a more well-rounded squad.
Crucially in the leave scenario it has to seem like United want to get rid, even if they don’t, and the fee also has to be big enough for it to be seen as a good deal for them, especially if they use the money to bring in at least one quality player.
Man Utd lose if… They dig their heels in to try and keep the Frenchman only for him to leave anyway late on in the transfer window. This would totally undermine United’s strength and standing in world football.
“We’re Man Utd, we don’t have to sell players,” Solskjaer said as rumours and reports flew about left, right and centre – and that’s been the standpoint at Old Trafford for some time.
Pogba, though, or perhaps more crucially his agent, Mino Raiola, has done this to United before. Sir Alex Ferguson was not the biggest fan of the agent, shall we say, and we all know that once a player has made his mind up to leave then it’s usually one-way traffic.
That battle is simply one that United cannot win at this time, so in this scenario they’d be much better accepting the fact Pogba wants to leave, and allow him to depart and get on with it. This club will always be bigger than any player.
If Pogba remains
Man Utd win if... Solskjaer does what Jose Mourinho couldn’t and get the very best World Cup-winning form out of the Frenchman, who undoubtedly has all the attributes necessary to become a very good player – a match-winner in fact.
His World Cup performances are always cited as the benchmark for Pogba, but it’ll be so hard to recreate that at domestic level, for one reason he had N’Golo Kante next to him in midfield! It’s also a more conservative team role that Pogba just doesn’t look comfortable in without Kante beside him.
Solskjaer may get more out of him if he makes Pogba his captain, as he’s suggested, but it’ll need a full buy-in by Pogba and the rest of his squad. It must be said, players seem to like Pogba, he doesn’t seem to be the ‘cancer’ in the dressing room many fans and pundits suggest, and if United continue their youth policy he could be the ideal leader.
As ever, though, it all depends on the man himself.
Man Utd lose if... Pogba basically makes no significant improvement to what he’s shown so far. We’ve gone beyond the point of no return in terms of things staying how they are. He’s made it know he’s like to leave, United have made it clear they want him to stay, he need to quickly improve to make that effort worthwhile.
If United put up this much of a fight to keep hold of a player that delivers the odd match-winning display in among some so-so performances and a sprinkling of anonymous outings, then United fans will not stand for it.
Fans have already given Pogba plenty of stick, and if the club turn down the chance to cash in only to see him produce more below-par displays then it’ll be seen as another huge mistake.
The fact Pogba left once before and became a star must be a worry to the club’s board, and despite Pogba still being a huge commodity off the pitch, if he’s not producing star performances week after week on it it’ll be seen as a failure.
It’s a tightrope, and if Solskjaer is the one driving the stance to keep him then it’s one that his job may depend upon.