It’s safe to assume that Mino Raiola is not a popular figure in the North West of England, at least for Manchester United fans.
The Italian ‘super-agent’ has never been one to mince his words or sit on the fence, but rather, many see him as the ultimate wind-up merchant, a man who stokes the flames and sows division under the pretence of client care.
Last year Raiola told The Times that he was “in the process” of arranging a transfer for Paul Pogba away from Manchester United, only for the Frenchman to remain put. But an indelible scar was left in the aftermath of those comments.
Seventeen months on and Raiola has once again aired his intent to try and engineer a move for Pogba, telling Italian publication Tuttosport: “Paul at Manchester United is unhappy, he is no longer able to express himself as he would like and as expected of him.
“He has to change teams. He has a contract that will expire in a year and a half, but I think the best solution for the parties is to sell [next summer].”
Raiola – It’s happened many times before . However surely Paul knew he was making this announcement? If he wasn’t aware then we should see a quote from him very soon correcting his agent. Finally to do this ahead of Leipzig and the Man Derby is terrible timing for the Team. 😡
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) December 7, 2020
This latest diatribe has supposedly come as a result of Pogba’s frustration at being deployed as a deep-lying midfielder, but when you consider the form of Bruno Fernandes, it is hard not to side with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on that tactical calculation.
So with Pogba entering the final 12 months of his contract in the summer, and given the latest war-of-words has just begun, the question seems less to be whether Man Utd will sell up in order to recoup some of the £89m they paid Juventus for him in 2016 but, rather, who will be able to buy the midfielder?
Join Football Index* in three steps:
- Head to the Football Index website using this link here and click ‘join now’.
- Enter your details, including a valid email address.
- Deposit funds to get underway and start buying shares.
*You have to be 18+ and Gamble Aware to sign up to Football Index. Values correct at time of writing 10:30 9/12/2020.
Dream: Real Madrid
It is no secret that Pogba harbours a desire to one day don the immaculate white jersey of Real Madrid. The Frenchman has revealed as much himself, stating last year that “every footballer would love to play for Real Madrid and would dream about that.
“It’s a dream of mine, so why not one day?”
Could that day now be on the horizon? It bodes well for Pogba that compatriot Zinedine Zidane remains in the Bernabeu dugout and may need an injection of inspiration to rejuvenate his side following a somewhat lukewarm start to their La Liga title defence.
The three-time Champions League-winning tactician has never hid his feelings for Pogba, previously expressing an admiration for a player who “knows how to do everything on the pitch.”
He even went as far as to tell Pogba that “if one day he gets the chance when he wants to leave United… if, when he finishes his experience at United, he wants to come here, why shouldn’t he come to Real Madrid?”
Of course, the long-term ambition for Los Blancos supremo, Florentino Perez, is to lure PSG sensation Kylian Mbappe to Madrid one day, but the Real President has never been one to go after just the single galatico-inspired target, and let’s face it, Zidane’s midfield is ageing at an alarming rate.
All things considered: the open-aired footsie between Pogba and Zidane, Raiola’s calculated comments and Luke Modric and Toni Kroos both having entered their 30s, a move to Real Madrid makes sense. A manager who wants him, and a player who wants to be there.
The Bernabeu crowd can be a hostile bunch at the best of times, though, so Pogba must know what he’s getting into before making that lucrative leap.
The Parisians are just one of a handful of clubs flush with enough spare cash to pull off such a deal. They may not be in desperate need of a new midfield fulcrum, but when an opportunity to sign Pogba presents itself, the top brass may not want to miss out.
Despite guiding PSG to the Champions League final last season, Thomas Tuchel hasn’t looked particularly convincing in the dugout this campaign, with his side appearing amorphous and disjointed at times, only for the quality of Neymar and Mbappe to carry the team.
His midfield roll call includes an abundance of star quality, including Danilo Pereira, Marco Verratti, Leandro Paredes, Ander Herrera, Idrissa Gueye and Rafinha, but arguably only the latter offers an exclusively attacking presence, while the others are more defence-minded or metronomic.
So, Pogba’s desire to play a more attacking role could be answered here. With one of Verratti, Herrera or Paredes playing the ‘regista’ role (recycling possession and pressing when off the ball) in tandem with either Pereira or Gueye, who are tasked with anchoring the midfield, Pogba would have license to surge up the pitch.
It could be the perfect role for him. Plus Raiola has instigated a number of moves for his players to the French capital, with some of his past and present clients including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Moise Kean, Maxwell, Blaise Matuidi, Gregory van der Wiel, Verratti and teenage sensation Xavi Simons.
“Maybe Juventus could be his next destination. Why not?” Raiola is quoted as saying in Tuttosport.
“Among other things, the relationship with the club and with his former team-mates is excellent. At the time of Covid, not many teams can afford to buy Paul. The important thing is to want it (a deal for Pogba).”
So, we now know Raiola’s preferred destination, but what of the club itself? Well, manager Andrea Pirlo, who played alongside Pogba for three years in the heart of Antonio Conte’s and later Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus midfield, has been competing with Zidane for most gushing comment.
“He’s a player who can be the best in his position for the next ten years,” Pirlo said after Man Utd re-signed Pogba from Juve in 2016. “This honour has been fought between Messi and Cristiano for many years, but football is prepared for a new king.”
Four years on and Pirlo is now in the Turin hotseat. When Pogba first arrived at the Old Lady training complex in 2012 as an unpolished gem from Old Trafford, Pirlo explained how Juve were “laughing” at Man Utd for allowing “a player of such ability to be let go for nothing.”
So, with Juve enduring a few domestic teething problems under Pirlo at present, while his midfield has largely flattered to deceive, could he look for an adrenaline shot through a player he once described as the “new king”?
Judging by his comments, he would jump at the chance, but whether Juve have pockets deep enough at this present moment remains another question.
Squawka suggests: Inter Milan
Taking all of the politics out of the equation, which admittedly is no easy task in football these days, and looking at Pogba’s conundrum through a purely tactical lens, a reunion with Conte would, unquestionably, be the best option for the Frenchman.
When Pogba rocked up in Turin as a teenage sensation, Conte engineered a path for him to the first team, creating a midfield system in which the wonderkid could thrive, which saw Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio do most of the heavy lifting, putting in the hard yards, while the talented youngster focused on his attacking game.
With Pirlo dictating the play further back, and the defence an insuperable force, Pogba was in the perfect environment, both on and off the pitch to hone his craft and develop. And we have already seen Romelu Lukaku, a player who struggled at Man Utd, transform into a world-class No. 9 under Conte’s tutelage.
The Italian’s system, 3-5-2, offers an excellent marriage of midfield balance, attacking penetration and defensive resilience. The only piece missing to this jigsaw is an attacking midfield presence. Christian Eriksen, for all intents and purposes is too attacking for Conte, an out-and-out playmaker, which begs the question why he signed him?
Nicolo Barella currently plays the role well, but the Italian is not as pronounced in the goalscoring department as Pogba. The Frenchman would be slotting in to a well-oiled team, deployed back alongside Vidal, whom he thrived with at Juve, as well as playing in his preferred position under a manager who knows how to get the best out of him — and linking back up with good friend Lukaku.
The Man-Utd-to-Inter pipeline has been in full flow these past few years, and few can deny this is a scenario that makes sense for Pogba in strictly football terms.