If you were in charge of Manchester United and both Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba sat down in front of you and one of them said: “It’s him or me,” who would you choose to keep?
That dilemma might well be looming in the distance for executive vice-chair Ed Woodward, with the club forced on Thursday to deny reports that relations between the head coach and his most expensive signing had reached an all-time low.
Mourinho is unlikely to have been impressed by Pogba’s intimations following the Premier League opening weekend win over Leicester City on Friday that if he said what he really wanted to say he would end up fined.
The World Cup winner had been made captain for the night with Antonio Valencia out injured and the last thing his boss would have expected is for that to be thrown back in his face.
It is apparent that there are issues between coach and player - no matter what Mourinho says to the contrary. The fact that Pogba felt emboldened to take Mourinho on publicly says a lot about his perceptions over who is running the show.
Mourinho made reference last week to the fact that managers in the Premier League should have their job titles altered to head coach because for the most part they are no longer in charge of running all facets of the club. The role of manager died a little more with the retirement of Arsene Wenger. Pep Guardiola at Manchester City aside, not a lot of the top clubs boast a manager who can claim to be the chief.
Even Mourinho – with all his titles and all his prestige – can no longer get what he wants from Woodward and United. His request for an experienced centre back like Jerome Boateng fell on deaf ears as his employers would prefer younger players with better resale value.
That illustrated that Mourinho simply does not enjoy the kind of power he wishes he had. His remit from here on in would appear to be coach the team and make them better.
And therein lies the rub. There are few if any pundits out there who would claim United are demonstrably better for Mourinho’s presence. The game against Leicester showed up the same old issues. There is a reliance on clean sheets first and little in the way of choreographed attacking moves.
Mourinho is not quite hanging by a shaky nail but to remove him from the club would not be to collapse the structure altogether.
Losing Pogba because of any sort of deterioration in the relationship would be catastrophic for United. He was allowed to walk out the door once when Sir Alex Ferguson failed to recognise his value. To do so again would be negligent.
Pogba was brought back to the club for a word record fee in order to be the face of Manchester United. He provides not only a player in a team but is supposed to epitomise United’s place in the global order.
It’s taking them longer than expected to reach the heights of the Ferguson era and Pogba is supposed to have Premier League titles and Champions League medals around his neck. Not Europa Leagues and League Cups. Mourinho’s football is stifling the Frenchman. And yes there is an argument to be made that Pogba needs to dig in and do as the coach asks. But how frustrating it must be for a world class player to be continually asked to contribute in a way that does not maximise his talents.
And, worse still, he's been hung out to dry by Mourinho on more than one occasion. There have been droppings, early substitutions, accusations of failing to follow orders, thinly-veiled criticism in the press even after he won the World Cup.
Mourinho claimed on Friday that he couldn't be any happier with Pogba but in front of the world's media what else could he say?
Pogba would probably have the weight of the institution on his side in any war with Mourinho. A sale to Barcelona might be a long shot for now but there is no doubt that Pogba would have taken a move to Spain under compatriot Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid when he left Juventus in 2016. That threat is not going away.
Adding even more fuel to that particular fire are this week’s links between the three-time Champions League winning manager and any vacancy that might come up in the managerial hotseat at Old Trafford.
Whatever money United make for Pogba would be nothing compared to the loss they would suffer if he left. He is their flagship player; losing him in acrimonious circumstances would be a crushing blow and give the impression that United cannot kept world class talent happy.
They have invested too much in Pogba only to see him escape again. United would have far more to lose by backing Mourinho and allowing him to impose his order on Pogba. It’s one thing alienating Luke Shaw or Anthony Martial but Pogba is the player United have staked a large part of their future on.
His contract expires in three years and it might well be the case that they will have a hard job in convincing him to extend it. It means that Barcelona, or Real Madrid for that matter, have plenty of time to work on Pogba and his agent Mino Raiola and pave the way for a departure. And as the clock ticks down towards expiry, United will no doubt be aware that his value will plummet along with it.
It’s vital that Pogba is kept happy, made to feel important and given the right role in the team. Mourinho might have plenty to gain in the short term if he wins this dispute with his star player but United would be digging themselves a hole if he does.