Manchester United confident of keeping Paul Pogba as coronavirus hits transfer market

Doubts over whether United's asking price can be met, especially in uncertain climate

Mark Critchley
Northern Football Correspondent
Monday 30 March 2020 10:11
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Since the close of last summer’s transfer window, it has seemed inevitable that the Paul Pogba saga would be revived at the end of the season and perhaps even reach a merciful conclusion. A player who had made just eight appearances for Manchester United this season looked closer than ever before to the “new challenge” he has publicly admitted to wanting.

That is no longer the case. United are now quietly optimistic that Pogba will still be at Old Trafford beyond the next transfer window and that very few if any major European clubs are in a position to match their £100 million-plus valuation of a World Cup-winning midfielder.

No suitable offer was forthcoming last summer, when Real Madrid submitted a derisory bid of €30m and included James Rodriguez for good measure. United ended the window happy to have kept a player deemed vital to their strategy on and off the pitch, albeit while expecting that interest would be renewed.

But just seven months later, the landscape has changed dramatically, not least because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Like businesses the world over, major European football clubs are having to step back, take stock and review their forward planning. Many decisions are on hold, particularly those which are cost-sensitive. Reports in Spain last week suggested Madrid’s transfer planning has been indefinitely suspended until the financial impact the crisis will have can be fully understood.

Juventus – Pogba’s former club and another potential suitor – were in danger of breaching financial fair play regulations even before the pandemic devastated life in Italy. Their policy of signing free agents on substantial salaries was a novel one but no less expensive. This weekend, Cristiano Ronaldo, manager Maurizio Sarri and the rest of the first-team squad agreed to waive four months’ wages in order to save their employers an estimated €90m.

No club is untouched by this crisis. The Stoxx Europe Football Index monitors all clubs listed on European stock exchanges, offering a barometer on the financial confidence of the game across the continent. After reaching a nine-year high in mid-February, it crashed to a four-year low last Monday. It picked up slightly over the course of last week but, as this crisis worsens, it could easily fall further.

And within this context, it becomes difficult to see how Pogba leaves for the substantial price that the Old Trafford hierarchy will still demand.

United’s attitude towards Pogba’s departure is thought to have softened since last summer – inevitably, given how little he has played and Bruno Fernandes’s impact on arrival – but the asking price remains north of £100m and United would certainly not countenance anything less than the £89m fee paid in 2016.

Mino Raiola, Paul Pogba’s agent

That intransigence is partly why Mino Raiola recently went on-the-record to describe Pogba’s situation at Old Trafford as “complicated”. “You cannot say what will happen,” the midfielder’s agent told Marca, only a few days after European football had effectively shut down. “Today you cannot know. There was great interest, but it was not possible. Last year, it does not count anymore. We will see what happens. “

In the very same interview with the Madrid-based daily, Raiola said he intends to move one of his clients to the Spanish capital during the next transfer window and he was not talking about extending Alphonse Areola’s loan. But even if Madrid press ahead with their plans and are able to spend, his promise would be more easily fulfilled by helping the Bernabeu giants to trigger Erling Haaland’s reported release clause at Dortmund.

There is no such release clause or easy way out for Pogba, not in the short-term at least.

The midfielder’s future would now appear to hinge on his contractual situation. Pogba’s current Old Trafford deal will run out in the summer of next year but United can unilaterally extend those terms by a further 12 months. Meanwhile, his market value will gradually depreciate over time unless new terms can be agreed with United.

As Raiola put it: “You cannot say what will happen.” It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Pogba signs a new contract and then either stays or leaves. He could wait to depart on a free transfer, maximising his earnings at his next destination, though that may only be possible when he is going on 30-years-old. But of all the options on the table, a mega-money exit during this summer – seemingly inevitable not long ago – is becoming increasingly unlikely.

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