Paul Pogba is set to leave Manchester United next summer, six years after returning to the club in a record transfer fee from Juventus.
It's safe to say that the Frenchman's time back at the Theatre of Dreams has been somewhat mixed. Reports indicated that Pogba fell out spectacularly with the man who signed him, Jose Mourinho, during the pair's time at the club together; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer integrated him more successfully, though has used the World Cup winner in various roles while trying to find his best team.
Pogba started 2021/22 explosively, too. The midfielder looked his creative best, racking up seven assists in the opening few games of the season and looking as integral a star as anyone else - and that's some feat, in this team.
We all know what Paul Pogba brings at his best - but perhaps United shouldn't renew that contract...
1. Pogba's no longer best in midfield
Paul Pogba was a marquee statement signing like the Premier League had never seen before. Upwards of £90m was spent on a starlet the club had already let go for free once; a man who dabbed in an announcement video with Stormzy. He even had his own emoji around that time.
Pogba was going to be the heart of United's midfield. He looked superb against Leicester City in the early weeks of his return and much of the talk around Mourinho's stint in the Old Trafford hot seat revolved around how best to unlock this incredible talent. Ander Herrera was used alongside Pogba to great effect; later, Nemanja Matic was bought for £40m as a destroyer, just to let United's record buy express himself.
But those were different times. Pogba is used out wide now, having never truly revelled in a midfield double-pivot like the one that he won the World Cup playing in. You can credit N'Golo Kante with a lot of the dirty work in that side of course - but Blaise Matuidi had a big role out wide, too. So maybe it's not quite as simple as signing Declan Rice to allow Pogba to flourish? Remember too that Pogba's best Juventus form came alongside Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal: two generational midfielders.
The Frenchman has often shown a lack of technical security in possession to play as a deep-lying playmaker in a 4-2-3-1. He's been easy to press in the heat and speed of the Premier League as Ole Gunnar Solksjaer often opts for Fred and Scott McTominay in big games. If Manchester United offer Pogba another contract, it's important to realise it's to play in a totally different role than the one he signed his first playing. Do you want to blow £300,000 a week on another winger?
2. He hampers United defensively
While Solskjaer has chosen to move United out of the midfield pairing because his lack of defensive contribution, he still has the same problem when he plays the Frenchman out wide. Defence starts from the front these days, doesn't it?
Calling Pogba a passenger in the press might be a little harsh - but having both him and Ronaldo in a front four limits just how intense United are in closing down opponents. It's no surprise that in the games that the pair have started at left-wing and striker respectively, the Red Devils have struggled to have quite the same chokehold on their opposition.
Having tied themselves to Ronaldo for the next two years at quite some cost, United are now in the position where they're better with only one of these two players in the team. They've been here before: remember the debates about whether Pogba could play with Bruno Fernandes? About whether Bruno could play with Donny van de Beek? About whether Bruno could play with his countryman, Ronaldo, even?
Re-signing Pogba doesn't just create a headache for Solskjaer to work out United's counterpress. It puts United in a position where they have a luxury playmaker in the side - however good he might be at creating, he's not got the same off-ball ability.
3. He's keeping others out of the side
Manchester United broke the bank for Jadon Sancho in the summer, having tracked him for years. The young England star is a complete winger - but he may spend much of the season sat on the bench in this glittering squad.
And Marcus Rashford's still yet to start this season. He was the first-choice option out on the left for United before Pogba's resurgence in the position - one might guess that he will have a little more competition for the spot now with Sancho, Pogba and even Ronaldo and Jesse Lingard, who can all play out there with Luke Shaw overlapping.
Assuming Ronaldo is United's best option up front and taking the press into consideration, United's first-choice XI probably sees Rashford on the left and Sancho on the right - though the two can switch wings, while Mason Greenwood is an option on both sides and up front, too. Where does Pogba fit in?
With United having invested so much in Ronaldo and Sancho - not to mention the club's identity being intrinsically linked to the development of young stars - there doesn't seem to be a natural fit for the Frenchman in the set-up. Even if they move to a 4-3-3, where does Bruno Fernandes fit in all of this?
4. He's become too divisive
Scapegoats are unfortunately a part of modern football. It's almost become a meme for Graeme Souness to criticise Paul Pogba whether he deserves it or not, while Manchester United fans have never wholeheartedly taken to their prodigal son with the love and adoration of someone like Rashford. Even McTominay.
It must be said that a lot of this is not Pogba's fault. He works hard for the team. He chose United when they had no Champions League football, when he had options from all over Europe and stayed with them when he probably still had other more attractive offers and could have downed tools or created a bad atmosphere within the club to force a move that benefitted his career.
But Pogba has become a relic of a time that United are keen to move on from. The club's post-Fergie philosophy of throwing their weight around in the transfer market peaked with Pogba's signing and when things are going wrong for the Red Devils, the no.6 is a lightning rod for everything negative that the media, that fans and that pundits want to throw at Solskjaer's side... however fair or foul.
Pogba could probably do with dimming his star a little himself, while United distancing themselves from a high-profile, divisive player would probably be welcome from the fans. It was a similar boat with Mesut Ozil at Arsenal - and by letting the squad scapegoats leave, there's less toxic conversation in north London about the players themselves.
5. Money needs spending elsewhere
Paul Pogba is said to earn close to £300,000 a week. That's a lot of money - and Manchester United can clearly afford it - but signing him up again is going to cost even more.
Given the financial uncertainty around football right now, is it wise to tie a player surplus in many ways to such an expensive deal? Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should. United may find themselves having to compete with Newcastle United's Saudi Arabian-bankrolled billions, soon. Look at the problems Barcelona have got themselves into. There are simply other priorities.
The club need another defensive midfielder, who won't come cheap. They need to renovate Old Trafford; they may have to think about paying off the manager and bringing in a world-class tactician in the coming weeks, rather than months. They may be thinking of long-term deals for some of their younger stars. On top of all of that, spending a huge chunk of the wage budget on Pogba seems a little excessive.
And maybe, after all, United cutting loose from Pogba is a sign of strength. It proves that they can rely on younger, more dynamic attackers. That they don't need to go out and sign a huge-money target like him again. It's not ideal that his contract is running out - but Pogba departing Manchester can be spun into a positive for everyone...
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