Real Madrid seem to be facing an uphill battle in their pursuit to sign Paul Pogba from Manchester United with just nine days remaining until the English transfer deadline.
The Blancos appear more in need of Pogba than ever following the humiliation of their 7-3 pre-season defeat to neighbours Atletico at the weekend, but the bad news for them is that they may have left it too late to persuade United to part ways with the World Cup-winning midfielder.
United have been adamant throughout the summer window that they expected Pogba to remain their player into the 2019-20 season, and are believed to have privately put a price-tag of around £160 million ($194m) on their former world-record capture. But the Frenchman’s declaration at a promotional event in June that he was ready for “a new challenge” seemed set to spark a long, drawn-out move to Madrid.
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Yet, despite his agent, Mino Raiola, then claiming that the 26-year-old was “in the process” of leaving Old Trafford, there has still been no official approach from Madrid. And with the English transfer window closing on August 8, it would now take a speedy operation by the power brokers at the Santiago Bernabeu to get Pogba signed in time.
Theoretically, Madrid could still snap up Pogba at any time until the Spanish window shuts at the end of August, with Gareth Bale and other potential departees helping to make room in the squad and the budget. But United would not be willing to sell their star player at a time when they are unable to land a replacement, meaning that Madrid are effectively working to the Premier League deadline when it comes to Pogba.
United are not desperate for the money either. So far this summer they have only spent around £65m ($79m) on the signings of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and while they are hopeful of adding Leicester City’s Harry Maguire to their squad in the next nine days and have also been linked with Bruno Fernandes of Sporting CP and Sean Longstaff from Newcastle United, the huge revenues accumulated at Old Trafford mean there is no need to sell a major player to finance such deals.
There have been some links between United and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Lazio, but the belief is that the Red Devils would only turn to the Serbian midfielder if they were to be resigned to losing Pogba. And with executive vice-chair Ed Woodward and his transfer team having been very slow and considered about the timing of their transfer activity in recent years it would be unlikely that they would rush through a deal for Milinkovic-Savic at this late stage just to allow Pogba to head to Madrid.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken at length – even long before being handed the Old Trafford job – about his desire to build a team around Pogba, and it would be a huge PR disaster for the club to enter into talks for the France international’s sale at a time when the Norwegian is looking to launch a rebuild of the United squad. Their summer campaign thus far has been one of careful planning and unhurried decision-making, so to enter into talks with Madrid at this late stage would undermine everything which the club have preached to this point.
This all leaves Madrid staring at the probability of missing out on Pogba and finding themselves heading into the 2019-20 season without a player who coach Zinedine Zidane has openly courted over a period of some months.
“I know him personally,” said the former France captain in March. “He brings so much and there are few players who bring as much as he does.
“He is a midfielder who knows how to defend and how to attack, but he is not my player, he is at Manchester.
“He has always said that, after Manchester, Madrid has always interested him. So when his experience at Manchester ends, why not come here to Madrid?”
But that eventuality now looks unlikely to happen this summer, with United having put the ball in Madrid’s court and the Spaniards having so far failed to respond.With so little time now left to get a deal done, it seems increasingly likely that it will be Premier League pitches on which Pogba will be plying his trade for the season to come.