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Gregg heroics a world away

Unseemly Pogba drama in sharp contrast with Munich deeds

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Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba

Mino Raiola (pictured) launched a broadside aimed at United over his client Paul Pogba

Mino Raiola (pictured) launched a broadside aimed at United over his client Paul Pogba

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Paul Pogba

The Paul Pogba stay-or-go saga has arrived at a level his Manchester United playing career too rarely touches - consistently in a league of its own.

What a bone-wearying soap opera it is, a contrivance fuelled by the parasitic impulses of Pogba's agent, Mino Raiola.

It is not merely that everybody knows how this debauched game ends - with the Frenchman riding into the moneyed Italian or Spanish sunset this summer, again a bottomless ATM for his voracious Mister 15%.

There are, too, the cloudbursts of classless hyperbole.

Grotesque

It was grotesque of itself that the Pogba camp should suggest a player remunerated to the tune of £290,000-a-week is treated as a "prisoner" by United, Old Trafford apparently some rain-soaked Shawshank.

That Raiola, who deployed a chunk of the £25m - not a misprint - he pocketed when Pogba returned to Old Trafford in 2016 to purchase Al Capone's former Miami mansion, would launch his latest unseemly broadside on the day Harry Gregg fell, shone a light on his indifference to history.

Or humanity.

Gregg died on Monday, 62 years on from his unimaginably courageous intervention on the icy Munich runway where so many of his United brothers lost their lives.

If the ultimate metric by which to measure a man's life is their selflessness in times of terror and darkness, then Gregg's was authentically, battle-ribbon heroic.

The Ulsterman found something within himself amid all that death and unquenchable panic and burning fuel that most of us simply don't have stored away to summon at times of existential crisis.

Decades later he recalled with chilling clarity that unspeakable moment when the plane buckled and he was thrown from the grotesquely fractured fuselage.

"I thought, I'm dead, I'm in hell, hellfire, damnation and all that. I could feel the blood coming down my face…I thought the top of my head had been taken off like a hard-boiled egg."

And yet, somehow, in that moment of blinding fear, the son of Coleraine was willing to trade in his life in an effort to save others.

Ignoring urgent warnings that the plane was primed to explode, Gregg climbed, time and again, back into that winged ship of death to pull passengers to safety.

Among those whose lives he saved was a pregnant woman, her daughter and an unconscious Bobby Charlton.

Perhaps it is ridiculous to shoehorn his titanic valour and the constant transfer agitation by Team Pogba into the same sentence, to juxtapose unfathomable self-sacrifice with egregious financial gluttony.

So upended is football's moral compass, so deep is the ocean of TV riches in which sharks like Raiola lurk, that he can legitimately claim - while keeping a straight face - to be merely representing the best interests of his client.

But, even if it is undeniably true that the sporting world has altered beyond recognition over the six decades since the plane crash, still it was jarring to read Raiola's Twitter tirade even as Old Trafford honoured a lion of Munich.

Pogba has played all of eight games this season for the club his people believe regard him as a bondservant.

The lesser-spotted World Cup winner has been paid £8m by United since the season kicked off on August 11; it hardly requires the algebraic skills of Pythagoras to do the maths.

One million quid an appearance. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team won just two of those eight contests.

Of course, United's ongoing lurch - they are 66 points worse off in the Premier League relative to Liverpool than they were on the afternoon in the spring of 2013 when Alex Ferguson finally laid down the managerial baton - runs far deeper than the long-absent Pogba.

There is also a school of thought that insists if anybody is sufficiently enterprising to pocket a few million bucks that would otherwise end up in the beaks of the Glazer family vultures, well, good luck to them.

Still, though, Raiola's latest intervention grates. That he would deem it appropriate to lob such a cynical, confrontational grenade, one ignoring Pogba's minimal contribution to a testing season, callously deaf to Solskjaer's own battle to survive the vortex of uncertainty, and heedless of Gregg's passing, is many things.

Classy is not one of them.

But then vulgarity, insensitivity, egotistical boorishness, ungracious opportunism, these are the calling cards of the Super Agents - the hallmarks a modern-day athlete desires in his financial representative.

Depressing

Even it is depressing, there is nothing remotely surprising about Raiola's scatter-gun attack.

Big-time sport can be engaging and thrilling. But each exhibition of piggish craving for more, each bending of the rules, makes it harder to love.

And increasingly difficult to really care. As Manchester City and Saracens and cycling's Team Sky have illustrated, integrity is a time-expired notion. Playing fair is for chumps.

Honour is a sign of weakness.

So, Raiola embarks on one more big-game hunt, unconcerned about collateral damage, dollar signs tattooed to his eyeballs.

The inclination, in this corner at least, is to stifle a bored, despairing yawn, swivel 180 degrees and seek out something more life-affirming.

Like the inspirational sunbeam of selfless courage Harry Gregg shone, all those years ago, on an impossibly Stygian Munich afternoon.


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