Will he stay, or will he go?
Man United’s Paul Pogba has made all kinds of not-so-subtle hints about his future this summer.
Just last week, he claimed in an interview in Tokyo that he was looking for ‘a new challenge somewhere else’, with Real Madrid and Juventus said to be admirers.
Despite this, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is adamant the Frenchman is staying put. But if he really wants to leave Old Trafford, how can the club possibly justify keeping hold of such a potentially disruptive influence in their dressing room?
Despite being one of the world’s biggest, best and richest clubs, United have dealt with problems like this before.
Perhaps the biggest instance was back in 2010, when Wayne Rooney – then one of the world’s best players – told the club he wanted to leave as they were failing to ‘match his ambitions’.
A huge story at the time that dominated the back pages, Rooney felt the club were slipping behind the likes of Man City and Chelsea, believing the club were unable to sign the leading players needed to win major trophies. This came just a year after the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, neither of whom were properly replaced by world-class talent.
Much like Pogba today, Rooney didn’t want to be at a club that was in danger of being left behind by the superpowers of world football.
But having signalled his intent to leave, Rooney then hastily signed a five-year deal with the club just two days later.
He claimed Fergie and the board had ‘convinced him this is where he belonged’ and his salary was boosted significantly to reflect the contracts of some of the world’s other big stars, while the manager said Rooney had been in danger of making the biggest mistake of his professional life.
Despite the allure of joining a side like City, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Chelsea, Man United was still very much the place to be at the time, and Rooney would go onto win many more trophies with the club – notably, two Premier League titles.
But while the club were happy to keep hold of one of their best players, and Ferguson was able to reassert his authority over his team, what was the reaction of the fans?
For some, it was never the same again. The boos rang out from the stands initially, but faded fast. But the overall relationship between Rooney and the club’s supporters remained uneasy and suffered a gradual, irreversible decline ahead of his eventual departure in 2017.
If Pogba does stick around beyond this summer, he’d have to do something pretty special to regain the trust of the United faithful, which has already been fractured by a hot and cold three years at the club.
While things have always felt a little awkward between Rooney and Man United thereafter, the feeling around Cristiano Ronaldo and his eventual move to Real Madrid was quite different.
Ronny was the linchpin of United’s Champions League triumph in 2008, and the fact that Madrid were interested was little surprise to anyone.
The club knew they’d struggle to keep hold of their star-man, and it was no secret that Ronaldo had his heart set on a move to Los Blancos. A big-money transfer looked inevitable, and was widely accepted – albeit dreaded – by most of the club’s fan base.
In an interview in 2008, he said: “I would like to play for Real Madrid, but only if it is true they are ready to pay what Manchester United ask of them. However, it does not depend on me.”
Ronaldo didn’t get his dream move in 2008, and was persuaded to stick around by the manager for one more season.
Was there any great point in keeping Ronaldo against his will?
There were times during the 2008/09 season where he seemed resentful of his surroundings, and there was clearly no chance of Ferguson or the United board persuading him to stick around for a second time.
With his heart and mind elsewhere, Ronaldo left for a world-record (at the time) £80million fee in the summer of 2009.
While United are a shadow of the team they were during the era of Rooney and Ronaldo, they’re still an almighty force on the transfer market and have the earning-power to attract the world’s best players.
Pogba’s desire to leave is a dilemma for both the club and the player, especially as he might struggle to get the move he wants, regardless of his urge to leave.
What happens with Pogba between now and the the window closing on August 9th will certainly be interesting.
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