Manchester United appear happy to spend big this summer to transform themselves back into genuine challengers for the major honours.
And yet, the biggest headlines featuring United this summer could concern a player leaving Old Trafford.
Manchester United have a major decision to make over Paul Pogba – sell this summer and recoup some money for the midfielder or let him leave for nothing next year
Pogba has a good relationship with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but there appears little indication he will extend his contract
The club have a major decision to make about Paul Pogba, who has entered the final year of his contract and has shown little inclination of signing a new one.
As a result, United must sell the French midfielder in the next few weeks to recoup anything substantial from the world record £89m they paid for him back in 2016.
Paris Saint-Germain have shown a strong interest in Pogba and it’s understood his agent Mino Raiola is discussing personal terms with them.
Pogba had a strong Euro 2020 with France but they lost in the last-16 to Switzerland
The French club, one of the few in European football that could match Pogba’s £290,000-a-week wages, believe they can buy him this summer for around £43m.
So United’s dilemma is whether to accept any offer that comes in or risk losing Pogba for nothing once his contract expires next summer.
We weight up the pros and cons of letting him go now and the knock-on impact on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team.
THE CASE FOR SELLING POGBA NOW
The last time Pogba departed United, to Juventus in 2012, they received a mere £800,000 in compensation for him.
As history tells us, Pogba went on to establish himself as one of the best young midfielders in world football during four successful seasons in Turin. It took a world record fee to buy him back.
So United may be reluctant to let such a talent leave for next-to-nothing for a second time. At 28, Pogba still has a lot more to give to his next employer and has considerable market value.
But with just a year left on his current deal, United won’t get anywhere near the £89m they paid out and even half that amount would bolster the transfer kitty to find a replacement or reinforce other parts of the team.
Pogba enjoyed his best season in United colours during 2020-21 but could still depart soon
Paris Saint-Germain, managed by Mauricio Pochettino, are interested in signing Pogba
If there is concrete interest from PSG, there could easily be interest from elsewhere and a bidding war could be sparked off.
Also, the argument persists that we haven’t seen anything like the best of Pogba’s game during his second spell at United. The club might as well cut their losses now.
The excellent performances put in by Pogba for France at Euro 2020 just added to the sense of frustration long felt by United fans. Why doesn’t he play with that same joy and freedom for his club?
Pogba’s 2020-21 campaign, although interrupted by injury, was his best for United in terms of consistently strong performances but there’s no assurance he will sparkle again in 2021-22.
United could be left with another year in which Pogba underwhelms for them and then they lose him for absolutely nothing anyway.
There’s every chance Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, will make more mischief for United
Then there’s the Raiola factor. Do United really want another year of Pogba’s agent constantly causing a nuisance, disrupting preparations for matches and making mischief by linking his client to European rivals?
Look at how Raiola’s comments about Pogba being ‘unhappy’ at United on the eve of their crucial Champions League game with RB Leipzig last December disrupted Solskjaer’s plans. Pogba had to start the game on the bench, United lost and fell into the Europa League.
While Pogba’s relationship with Solskjaer is infinitely better than with Jose Mourinho, the potential for more irritating distraction is ever-present, especially if big clubs start jostling to open talks with him from January.
Another factor is that bringing in anything north of £40m for Pogba can immediately be ploughed back into new signings.
The money raised by selling Pogba could be reinvested into buying Eduardo Camavinga
Buying another midfielder is a priority anyway and the ideal replacement could come from France. Eduardo Camavinga is about to enter the final year of his Rennes contract and some reports suggest the exciting 18-year-old could be signed for as little as £25m.
For someone with such potential to develop into a world class player, that truly would be a steal although obviously United won’t get a free run at him with other big clubs interested.
Saul Niguez, 26, is another potential target. The Atletico Madrid and Spain star could be available for £34m and could receive the integral role at Old Trafford he isn’t currently getting at Atletico.
Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez could be another potential target if United need a midfielder
Even the £80m price tag on West Ham’s Declan Rice would seem more palatable if half of that fee had already been raised through Pogba’s sale.
So if United quickly make up their minds over Pogba, they can also act quickly to find his replacement and get them involved as early into the new season as possible.
In the process, they would save themselves a whole heap of Raiola-related distraction later on.
THE CASE FOR LETTING POGBA’S CONTRACT RUN DOWN
On the flip side, the reality is that Pogba’s sale wouldn’t happen overnight and nor would the process of buying a replacement.
There are under six weeks remaining until the Premier League transfer window closes on August 31. Time would almost certainly be tight for transfer negotiator Matt Judge and his team to thrash out the deals, especially when United are going for other targets as well.
If Pogba goes but they were unable to bring in another midfielder, United would face at least half the season with options of Fred, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek.
Not the worst set of players but you’d be hard pressed to argue any of those four are capable of the kind of game-changing impact Pogba can produce on his day.
If United sold Pogba, it would be left to Donny van de Beek and others to make midfield spark
United would be left fundamentally weakened at a time when Solskjaer wants to speed up the incremental progress made over the last two years and push for the first silverware of his tenure.
They could easily be enhanced in attack and in defence but flawed in midfield, with nobody linking it all together.
Van de Beek would have to step up after an anonymous first season at United that saw him become accustomed only with English substitutes’ benches.
As a result, surely it’s better to have a game-changer like Pogba in the side a little longer and then allow him to slip away for nothing?
Pogba was influential for France at the Euros and United will hope that good form continues
And, you never know, we might finally see the best of Pogba for United in his farewell season. We might see the transformative influence we see in the colours of France carrying on his Euro form.
There were times last season when he really was United’s driving force, not least in a purple patch at the beginning of 2021 when they did, albeit briefly, look like genuine title contenders.
It was no coincidence that United dropped six points out of 12 available in the league games straight after Pogba suffered a hamstring injury against Everton on February 6.
He returned in April with a flurry of assists and it will be hoped that now he can use Euro 2020 as a springboard into his best season for United yet. If that means he departs the club with a medal or two, then all the better.
Pogba was on top form for United last season until he suffered a hamstring injury in February
A bargain could be struck with Pogba – give us one final year, give us your best, help us win something and then have your pick of destinations next summer.
His understanding with Bruno Fernandes is flourishing, linking things together, his cross-field passes into room could benefit Sancho and Marcus Rashford. It could all work very nicely.
There’s also the fact United have already committed to spending big this summer on Sancho and whoever comes in. They haven’t felt the need to offload players to do this. The £40m or so earned from selling Pogba is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
And so having already let Pogba leave for nothing, there may be enough on-field benefits from making him run down his contract to justify any off-field hassle.