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The Paul Pogba Problem

Previously the most expensive footballer in the world, Paul Pogba’s stock appears to be at an all-time low.

Bringing Pogba back to Old Trafford for a world-record fee to join up with proven trophy winners in Bastian Schweinsteiger, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jose Mourinho signalled United’s intent to once again become the dominant force in English football. Despite winning the Europa League, League Cup and achieving a second-place Premier League finish under Jose Mourinho, the board and the fans were still unhappy with the club’s performances and cracks began to appear in the dressing room.

This came to the fore after Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Southampton in December 2018, following which Mourinho is rumoured to have compared Pogba to a virus. It quickly became clear that the two could no longer work together and the board had to choose between their record signing or their polarising manager. The former was chosen and less than three weeks later, Jose Mourinho was sacked by Manchester United.

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Pogba initially saw a brilliant resurgence to form, scoring eight goals and assisting six in the Norwegian’s first 11 games in charge. However, in Ole’s first full season in charge, Pogba was plagued by ankle injuries, restricting him to just 16 league appearances. During this time, Solskjaer found a formula to win matches without the Frenchman in the side and Pogba has been unable to force his way back into the first team. Scott McTominay and Fred have been United’s most regular central midfielders so far this season. This leaves one of the most expensive midfielders of all time often warming the bench at Old Trafford and clearly out of the manager’s plans.

Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, has since stated his client is unhappy in Manchester and wants to leave the club in January. However, clubs that can afford his substantial wages and may still be willing to gamble on the World Cup winner are likely to be limited. 

Zinedine Zidane is rumoured to have a long-standing interest in bringing Paul Pogba to Madrid and Pogba himself has previously stated it would be a dream of his to play for Real Madrid. However, Real Madrid’s poor form on the domestic and continental stage this season has put Zidane’s future at the club in doubt. The club has also been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and is reported to be facing a financial shortfall of £200m for the current season. Therefore, Madrid are expected to refrain from spending in the market for a second consecutive transfer window unless they can generate funds by offloading first-team players such as Luca Jovic and Mariano Diaz. Therefore, a big-money move for Paul Pogba is highly improbable.

Juventus are also known to have been interested in bringing Pogba back to Turin. Whilst the Italian giants have continued to dominate domestic football since the Frenchman’s departure, the club’s ultimate aim is to lift the Champions League trophy once again. The Old Lady last achieved this feat in the 1995/96 season and has lost in the final five times since. The acquisition of global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was intended to lead Juventus to a Champions League final victory again, yet Juventus crashed out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage last season in a surprise defeat against Ajax. Pogba is still held in high regard in Turin as he was integral to Juventus’ run to the final back in the 2014/15 season and so the club will surely examine the feasibility of a move for the Frenchman. Juventus were also hit hard financially by the coronavirus pandemic and the club’s only significant transfer (a swap deal with Barcelona for Arthur, with Miralem Pjanic heading the other way) was conducted almost solely to make both clubs’ accounts appear healthier. This is detailed brilliantly in a Twitter thread by @SwissRamble which can be seen here. For this reason, it would appear that Juventus are unable to afford to purchase Paul Pogba. However, if a similar swap deal could be constructed with Manchester United (with a player such as Paulo Dybala heading to Old Trafford), Pogba may well return to Turin.

One final option for Pogba could be a move to PSG. Whilst PSG have also felt the financial impact of coronavirus, with the club owned by the nation of Qatar, a big-money move for a player of Paul Pogba’s quality wouldn’t be too far out of the question. The Parisians have had world-class forwards and defenders in recent years but have struggled to surround Marco Verratti with quality in midfield. Similarly to Juventus, despite the club’s domestic dominance, Qatari investment in PSG came with the ambition to become only the second French side to win the Champions League. Bringing another global superstar to Paris to add strength to their midfield would surely be of interest to PSG. The major stumbling block with a potential move for Pogba would be Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. Even though FFP regulations have been relaxed due to the COVID pandemic, PSG have been continually scrutinised by UEFA since they brought Neymar and Mbappe to the club in the same transfer window. PSG managed to escape punishment from UEFA by initially taking Mbappe on loan from Monaco, with an obligation to make the move permanent. The Parisians could look to agree a similar deal with Manchester United for Paul Pogba to ensure they continue to comply with FFP regulations.  

To conclude, Real Madrid no longer appears to be a realistic destination for Paul Pogba. Juventus, whilst restricted financially, could potentially construct a player-trade deal to bring Pogba back to Turin. His final option looks to be PSG. Whilst the Parisians are the most capable of purchasing Pogba, their interest in taking Tottenham’s Dele Alli on loan appears stronger. Mino Raiola may be determined to get Pogba out of Old Trafford, but a January transfer seems very unlikely due to the complexity of these potential deals. Raiola even admitted this recently, expecting the Frenchman to leave Old Trafford at the end of the season instead. Whilst Pogba may no longer be a part of Solskjaer’s first-team plans, it looks like he will remain in Manchester at least until the end of the season.

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