Paul Pogba can’t step on a football pitch right now without his every step being viewed within the prism of a potential move away from Manchester United.
The France international has followed up a triumphant summer at the World Cup in Russia with a baffling early-season run which has included performances at both ends of the scale and cryptic messages relating to his position at United and what might happen in the immediate future.
He told Sky Sports Germany during the recent international break: “My future right now is with Manchester. I have a contract. Currently, I play there, but who knows what will happen in the next couple of months.”
So the big question as United prepare to face Young Boys this week in their first Champions League fixture of 2018-19 is exactly what will become of Pogba’s second spell at Old Trafford, and might he actually be destined for an exit as early as January?
POGBA’S CONTRACT SITUATION
Having left United at the end of his contract as an 18-year-old in 2012 citing a lack of first-team opportunities under Sir Alex Ferguson, Pogba returned from Juventus in 2016.
“I came back to Carrington and it was like I just came back home,” he told MUTVafter becoming a world-record signing at £89.5 million. “I think it’s destiny.”
At the time, he put pen to paper on a five-year contract worth around £290,000 a week with United holding the right to take up a one-year option at the end of the deal which would see him remain until 2022.
It has been common practice for the club to take up options as standard of late, most recently with the likes of Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young this summer, but United would certainly not want things to get to that stage in the case of a huge asset such as Pogba.
Running his deal down until its final year is unlikely to be seen as an option, but equally there will be no significant rush from United’s end to renegotiate little more than two years after Pogba’s five-year contract was first signed.
While Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, is well known for putting noses out of joint to get the best deal for him and his players, United will be keen not to jump the gun in addressing the issue of renewed terms at this stage.
IS POGBA UNHAPPY AT MAN UTD?
Having only earlier that week returned from his holidays after winning the World Cup with France, Paul Pogba turned in a Man of the Match performance against Leicester on the opening day of the season but immediately courted very different headlines for his post-match comments.
“There are things that I cannot say, otherwise I will get fined,” he told reporters following the game, giving the impression of a player who – far from being happy and content – had some issues he would like to get off his chest but it would cause issues at a club level if he were to do so.
And while he has been part of a united front from the Red Devils’ players over recent weeks as they have got their season back on track with away wins against Burnley and Watford, there has been little sign of an improvement in the relationship between Pogba and Jose Mourinho.
Whenever Mourinho has been asked about Pogba’s mood, his reply has been “You have to ask him,” as if he is unwilling or unable to speak of the player’s satisfaction or otherwise with his current circumstances.
The comment made by Pogba to Sky Sports Germany which suggested he cannot confirm whether he will be at United in the longer term leaves much room open for speculation. In a position to kill the talk dead, he has done little to do so to this point.
WHICH CLUBS ARE INTERESTED IN POGBA?
Since Pogba met with Barcelona director of football and former France team-mate Eric Abidal in July there has been much talk in Catalunya about the possibility that the midfielder could become a Blaugrana player at some point.
There is a very strong belief among the Barcelona hierarchy that a deal could be done for Pogba at some point soon, and the well-worn path of praising potential future team-mates has been walked recently by Luis Suarez. “Pogba’s an elite player who’s won everything,” Suarez told RAC1 . “I think he would like to be competing for more than he is at the moment. He’s not a player that belongs to Barca, but he would always be welcome.”
Elsewhere, former club Juventus are also keen having seen Pogba excel in his four-year spell in Italy between 2012 and 2016 during which he was part of an all-conquering Bianconeri side which won four straight Scudetti and reached the 2015 Champions League final.
There have also been significant links with Paris Saint-Germain as a possible destination, but at this point it appears that they have the least compelling argument to make in the market having pushed close to the restrictions set in place by Financial Fair Play rules with the signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Those moves leave them with little in the way of wriggle room should they wish to bring Pogba to Paris.
Real Madrid, the club who pushed United closest for the Frenchman’s signing back in 2016, had been credited with a serious interest last season but that link has gone somewhat cold in recent times thanks in part to the success of their current midfield setup. They also are thought to be averse to the idea of working with Raiola, which would take quite an about-turn to see a move being pushed through.
IS A JANUARY EXIT REALLY POSSIBLE?
While all is clearly not well between Pogba and United, a move in the winter would only come about if something of gigantic proportions were to take place between now and the end of January.
United could not lose their star midfielder without bringing in a significant replacement, but few blockbuster signings are ever available in the middle of the season. There are also the circumstances at potential buying clubs to take into account.
For a start, PSG are in no position to spend big in January because of their aforementioned FFP issues, while Juventus are also pushing close to the line in terms of their budget for the rest of the season following the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. It would take the sale of an asset such as Paulo Dybala next summer for them to have the financial capabilities to make a concerted effort to bring in Pogba.
Meanwhile Barcelona are a possible suitor in January, much as they were able to add Philippe Coutinho to their squad from Liverpool last winter, but again it would take United agreeing to sell and that would be unlikely unless they could source a replacement of equal quality.
A January exit cannot be entirely ruled out, but Pogba ought to be a United player until at least the end of the season. After that, who knows?