Jose Mourinho powerless in Manchester United soap opera as Paul Pogba holds the aces
It was 20 past midnight in the Allianz Arena when Paul Pogba left the France dressing room and walked past the small group of journalists waiting to speak to the Manchester United midfielder following the world champions' 0-0 draw against Germany in Munich.
The German squad were all long gone, while Didier Deschamps and the rest of his France players were waiting on the team bus before heading to the airport.
But almost two hours after the final whistle, Pogba emerged to briefly hold court, insisting that he had nothing to do with the constant swirl of speculation surrounding his Old Trafford future.
"Rumours are rumours," Pogba said. "But it's not me who is talking."
Less than 24 hours earlier, however, the 25-year-old had also spoken about the same issue, claiming: "I'm playing there [United] at the moment, but who knows what will happen in the near future?"
Pogba is a smart and intelligent guy off the pitch, so he knows precisely what he is doing, and the impact of it, when he speaks about his commitment, or otherwise, to United.
And despite Jose Mourinho's ability to play the media game as well as anybody in football, Pogba is also fully aware he has a crucial advantage over his United manager in that, as a star player approaching his best years, he is more of an asset to his club and therefore holds all the power.
The publication last week of the SportsPro 50 Most Marketable Athletes list, which ranked Pogba at No. 1, ahead of the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Anthony Joshua and Steph Curry, was another powerful example of why Mourinho is fighting a losing battle in his attempts to control the Pogba situation at United. Pogba also ranked highly in ESPN's World Fame 100, another example of his burgeoning appeal.
Pogba is vital on and off the pitch, and the Glazer family and Ed Woodward, the executive vice chairman, will not easily give up their prize asset to Barcelona or Real Madrid simply because their manager cannot get the best from him during 90 minutes every weekend.
As unpalatable as it will be to many United supporters, Pogba is arguably worth more to United off the pitch than he is on it because of his commercial and reach and power.
In an age where brand recognition is king, having a player such as Pogba, who is as easily recognised in New York, Beijing, Johannesburg and Jakarta as he is in Manchester, is a priceless commodity for United.
Pogba knows this too, as does his agent, Mino Raiola, so there will be plenty more unguarded comments and thinly veiled threats to consider a move elsewhere during the months ahead.
Whether the end game is designed to deliver a lucrative new contract at United to take him beyond Alexis Sanchez, who is doing little to justify his £400,000-a-week salary as the club's highest earner, or secure a big money move elsewhere remains to be seen, but when the time comes for United to make a decision, it won't be Mourinho's to make.
The buck does not stop with the manager anymore -- Mourinho admitted that himself at the start of the season when, unhappy that the club failed to secure all of his summer targets, he claimed: "I'm now a coach, not a manager."
Had Mourinho been in charge of transfer ins and outs at United, Anthony Martial would have been sold this summer, rather than kept on to negotiate a new contract, while a new centre-half would have arrived, despite concerns of value for money from the senior figures in the boardroom.
Mourinho failed to get his way on Martial or the defender, so don't expect him to come out on top in the Pogba situation.
The recent toning down of Mourinho's language towards Pogba is perhaps a sign of his realisation that there can only be one winner in what has become a two-way battle of egos.
But if Mourinho has taken a deep breath and chosen pragmatism as the way forward, Pogba has allowed himself to be consumed by the whole affair and he is the one who must now look at himself in the mirror.
Last Thursday's episode in the Allianz Arena was an example of how Pogba is now beginning to regard himself as the star character in his own soap opera.
He was so late out of the dressing room that he had an anxious French media officer attempting to hurry him on to the bus, where his teammates had been waiting, some for more than half an hour, to leave the stadium.
But Pogba sauntered through the mixed zone area, chatted for five minutes, said his piece about "rumours" and then casually walked on to the bus with no sense of urgency or regret at keeping everyone else waiting.
Perhaps it is all a game to Pogba and his representatives because they know, whatever the outcome, they will emerge as well-remunerated winners.
It is not difficult to see why Mourinho has become so frustrated with his £89m midfielder, but Special One is now pretty much the Powerless One when it comes to dealing with him.