Thursday 22 February 2018

Clear run for Manchester United's £100m Paul Pogba bid, as Jose Mourinho clears out kids

Paul Pogba is United's primary transfer target this summer Getty
Paul Pogba is United's primary transfer target this summer Getty

Ian Herbert and Mark Ogden

Manchester United have been left a clear run in their push to sign Paul Pogba with Real Madrid’s interest in the French midfielder fading and a £100m Old Trafford bid for the 23-year-old now imminent.

United manager Jose Mourinho has made it very clear that he does not have faith in the same young players as his predecessor Louis van Gaal, with James Wilson, Tyler Blackett and Guillermo Verela all omitted from  the club’s pre-season tour squad that embarked for China on Tuesday and now likely to be offloaded.

With Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola the first of the pair to show interest in young English talent, through an official telephone  inquiry about 17-year-old West Ham defender Reece Oxford on Monday night – Mourinho is pushing United to press home the world record Pogba deal.

United have already passed up the chance to buy Portuguese star Renato Sanches to focus on Pogba. It was becoming increasingly clear on Tuesday night that the Spanish club’s president Florentino Perez does not want to join the chase for the Frenchman, who does not fit the profile of player he generally likes to sign. Perez prefers instead to sign Valencia’s Portuguese midfielder Andre Gomes.

With no other club in the race for the Frenchman, that leaves the ground clear for United to make the first play of what promises to be the most extraordinary transfer deal of the summer, with Juventus demanding £100m plus £13m add-ons dependent on Pogba’s performances, goals and trophies with United.

United, who are likely to want to cap the size of the Pogba deal at £100m, would see the midfielder’s arrival as a huge statement of their own intent as a big player on the world stage.  With their vast earning power could certainly both to pay the 23-year-old’s £250,000 salary and to smash the world transfer record.

An instagram image of himself Pogba published on Tuesday did enough to cause United some concern. It captured him dressed all in white – Real’s colours – with the comments ‘tout blanc – peace’ and ‘all in white – peace.’

But the fact that most of United’s heavy outlay this summer has been in Raiola clients – Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – suggests that they will be very aware of Pogba’s wishes and in a good position to begin negotiations. La Gazzetta dello Sport insisted on Tuesday that Pogba would leave Turin and that Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain would arrive to take his place.

The absence of Real Madrid from the race will be a boost to United, given the way that the Spanish side thwarted their attempts to formulate a transfer policy last summer – holding onto Sergio Ramos, whom the Old Trafford club were convinced would be joining them, and continually threatening to poach David de Gea until the last day of the window.

Perez’s preference for Gomes was made clear on Tuesday when journalists close to the president at the Spanish title (ital)Marca(close) –a  Real mouthpiece - pushed the Portuguese’s case hard. Gomes’ image dominated the paper’s front cover and the notion of Real signing covered a subsequent two pages. “Andre Gomes – mas cerca” (‘Andre Gomes – closer’) the banner headline claimed.

Real’s interest in Pogba waned after a European Championships in which he did not take the breath away, despite excellent performances at times. Subsequently, there has been no clamour among Real fans to sign the Frenchman. The situation could change if Real were to make a big sale themselves, possibly James Rodriguez who is yet fully to establish himself. But there is a growing sense that the route to Pogba will remain clear for United. 

Though City have identified central defence as such a major problem that they want to buy both Everton’s John Stones and Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci, West Ham teenager  Oxford would be seen as one for the future. He is understood to relish the idea of developing under Pep Guardiola. 

The teenager has two years of his West Ham contract to run but negotiations about an improvement to his terms have not yielded a breakthrough and that may help strengthen the hand of a bidding club. United are also actively interested and have also scouted the player, though Tottenham are thought to be further down the pecking order.

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