If Paul Pogba wants to go, Manchester United should just let him
The drama surrounding Paul Pogba's future at Manchester United continued to unfold this week, with the midfielder hinting that a move may well be on the cards.
The only future he was prepared to commit to was "right now" before repeating that he was "currently" a United player but "who knows what will happen over the next couple of months." These certainly aren't the encouraging words United supporters would hope to hear from their best outfield player. (Deepening the mystery, Pogba on Thursday night, after France's match against Germany, commented on the exit rumours, saying: "It's not me who is talking.")
While some fans may be desperate to cling on to him, many will have to acknowledge there's no point keeping hold of a player who doesn't want to be there. And there's no pride in pandering after a want-away player either, especially not for supporters who believe their club is the biggest in the world.
This isn't a totally foreign situation for them, though. During the summer of 2008, star man Cristiano Ronaldo was regularly linked with a move to Real Madrid and he was all too happy to encourage the rumours. "Only God knows" was his standard response when quizzed about his United future. "I love to play in white," he said when interviewed following a Euro 2008 game for Portugal, with a cheeky grin on his face. "The white of the national team," he added.
Watching your best player flirt with another club and the possibility of leaving is always fairly painful. Pogba's claim that "I give it my all for United always" is of little comfort, especially when his start to the season has been anticlimactic, with him acknowledging that his attitude wasn't right in his team's defeat against Brighton.
But if he wants to go, United should allow him to leave. The medal he won this summer will only add to his astronomical transfer value. Yet the more depressing reality is that it is unlikely United will know how to spend it. If their transfer business following Ronaldo's sale is anything to go by, as well as the many windows since, there's small comfort in knowing they can demand a large sum for him.
In the summer, given a choice between the player and manager, many supporters would have picked the former. He was seen as the long-term hope for the club while Jose Mourinho was only ever going to make it until the end of the season, at most. Yet Mourinho has seen his stock rise in recent weeks, with fans in the Stretford End and the away end at Burnley making their feelings known, and the manager reciprocated by entering the pitch to applaud them.
Pogba's latest comments won't endear him to the fanbase, though, and his timing in kicking up a fuss seems puzzling. It's hard to imagine the club would let him leave in January, so he should prepare himself for a long season ahead if he's unhappy enough to keep cryptically voicing his displeasure now.
It's difficult to pinpoint just one thing that may have lead Pogba to be unsure about his position at the club. His apparent falling-out behind the scenes with Mourinho won't have helped, even if both parties deny there are problems.
Agent Mino Raiola getting in his ear to talk up a move to Barcelona, who appear keen to sign him, will have likely turned Pogba's head too. Reports at the time of the player's transfer to United from Juventus claimed Raiola earned £40 million from the deal, so it would be no surprise if he's already scouting out his player's next big-money move.
Pogba's form at United has been hit-and-miss, which won't sit comfortably with him either after playing a key role in Juve's success before that. He likes to be the star of the show and, for whatever reason, it just doesn't seem to click for him at Old Trafford. He should shoulder some of the responsibility for this, but it will be easier for him to blame Mourinho.
While it's true the manager has struggled to find a way to bring the best out in Pogba, he can't be accused of not trying. He's changed his formation to a 4-3-3 to allow the Frenchman to play in his preferred position on the left of midfield. Mourinho also signed Nemanja Matic last season and Fred this season in a bid to give Pogba more freedom to do his thing. Neither signing has yielded the desired results, although it's early still to judge Fred's impact. Pogba has also been given the captain's armband on occasion, showing how highly Mourinho rates the midfielder's leadership skills. Apparently, it's too little, too late.
A bigger factor than all of these, though, may be the ego that France's exploits in the World Cup brought out in Pogba. That's not to say he was ever the shy and retiring type. It's clear that he's always possessed plenty of confidence in his abilities; indeed, that's surely helped lead him to leave United so he could star in the Serie A when he was just a teenager.
However, on the back of playing an important role for the French national team, as well as scoring in the final, Pogba now carries the title of world champion and seemingly has grown tired of playing for a club where all the weight of expectation is put on his shoulders.
This is a desperately disappointing predicament for United fans, who had hoped that his showing in Russia would see him return to Manchester brimming with confidence and ready to drag his club to success.
United supporters have been here before too, when they were left delirious by Robin van Persie's performances for Holland manager Louis van Gaal during the 2014 World Cup. With the incoming United boss masterminding a 5-1 victory over the then-world champions Spain in the opening game of the tournament -- including one of the best goals of the year from the United striker, thanks to an incredible assist from new signing Daley Blind -- they couldn't wait for the season to start. We know how that one ended, and it looks as though history may be repeating itself.
One interview won't determine Pogba's future. It's not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination.
Yet the more Pogba talks, the easier it will be for the fans to wash their hands of him. He was developed in their academy and returned as the prodigal son, but disloyalty isn't easily forgiven. The mantra that nobody is bigger than the club will be repeated, and Pogba's name can be added to the chapters of disappointment written since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.