Pogba transfer plea shows why Man Utd is no place for superstars

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The World Cup winner took the unprecedented step of asking for a new challenge, meaning his return to Old Trafford has been an expensive failure

If Paul Pogba gets his way, then he will not be at Manchester United by the time the new season kicks off. And that in turn could have devastating consequences for the club’s ability to attract top talents going forward.

Pogba is far and away United’s most talented and best-performing player – by any metric – but in many quarters has been made the scapegoat for their failures under Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

At the heart of it, United simply haven’t got players alongside Pogba that are of comparable worth. Alexis Sanchez, the highest earner in the Premier League, is the embodiment of wasted talent with just five goals in 45 games since his arrival in January 2018.

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But instead of pointing the fingers of blame at the rest of the squad, or to the recruitment department where the problem really lies, fans are minded to turn their ire towards Pogba, a world-class player who is already doing more than his fair share of heavy lifting. He supplied more goals and assists than any other United player last season and, despite the consistency in his output, was regularly slated from the sidelines.

This is a World Cup winner, as well as a multiple Serie A winner with Juventus, whose effort and ability are undermined at the drop of a hat. The truth of the matter is that the Pogba return to United has been a bad match since the very beginning. Quite what kind of player Mourinho thought he was getting in 2016 never tallied with what Pogba could actually do.

He has been shifted around the midfield – in positions that do not always adequately showcase his best characteristics – and been forced to deal with the critics when things go wrong.

It’s clear that there were problems with Mourinho. From the moment last April when Pep Guardiola revealed he had been offered Pogba’s services by agent Mino Raiola, it has been apparent that the truce between player and club has not always been easy. Then followed Pogba’s much-publicised transfer saga last summer when it emerged that the Frenchman was determined to push through a move to Barcelona. That didn’t come off, but history is repeating.

Sponsored or corporate media opportunities are usually bland affairs, where players and clubs go out of their way to ensure nothing remotely interesting is said. What Pogba did in Tokyo on Sunday is unprecedented. To turn an end-of-season commercial tour into a press conference, featuring a publicly-declared desire to change clubs - with Real Madrid or a return to Juve the likely destination - demonstrates the gravity of the situation facing Manchester United.

Pogba is hoping to facilitate his departure by putting it out there that he will be the one to instigate the move. At this stage of his career, having just turned 26, Pogba cannot easily face the prospect of remaining under contract at United until 2022. His current deal expires in 2021 but United hold the option to renew for a further season.

Paul Pogba Manchester United 2018-19

United right now are going nowhere, have a squad of uneven quality, and a coach of little or no pedigree. They are directionless, no place for a player of Pogba’s class.

Manchester United for a long time rightly regarded themselves as a club right at the highest levels. They made big signings under Sir Alex Ferguson, players like Juan Sebastian Veron, Rio Ferdinand and Dimitar Berbatov, but none of those had to deal with the same kind of expectation that Pogba has.

When United spent big, it was usually for one player who could slot in and improve what was already there. But there isn’t the baseline quality in the team these days, which means Pogba is a fish out of water.

This is not the NBA, where one major acquisition can make the difference like Kawhi Leonard for the Toronto Raptors. A superstar is always going to have trouble standing out in ordinary teams. And that is one reason why those players linked to Manchester United this summer – such as Matthijs de Ligt and Christian Eriksen – may well be reluctant to commit.

For United to build a team of players on Pogba’s level would take an outlay of about £1 billion based on current transfer market trends. One or two players of that class – without an equally-talented squad around them – would find it extremely difficult to make the difference but would still find themselves blamed for failing to imbue the team around them with a higher standard of play.

United need to embark on a recruitment drive but it will take more than one or two superstars – on wages to match – in order for them to get to the next level. And what the Pogba saga proves is that world-class players have nothing to gain but everything to lose by going there.

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