Thursday 19 September 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'Solskjaer will gain more by selling Pogba than trying to build around him'

 

Paul Pogba. Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Paul Pogba. Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Jamie Carragher

The immediate concern for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not who Manchester United should buy to rebuild the club. It is who they sell.

There would be one name on the top of my list. Paul Pogba.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

If Real Madrid have £100 million and Zinedine Zidane wants him, United can solve the first of many problems as their long reconstruction gets under way.

Since Solskjaer took over at Old Trafford he has never hidden how inspired he is by his mentor, Alex Ferguson. He would be wise to ask himself, "What would Sir Alex do with Pogba?"

The history lesson is there. Solskjaer faces the greatest challenge of any United manager since Ferguson's appointment in the mid-'80s, when he assessed a talented, underperforming squad and made ruthless, sometimes unpopular decisions for the greater good.

Players like Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside were loved by United fans but considerations went beyond football ability. What kind of dressing room do you want? What is the culture you are trying to create?

In those cases, it is well documented Ferguson was worried about the social activities of his senior players, and whether they were setting the right example for those coming through the system or arriving at the club.

Solskjaer must ask himself if Pogba is the symbol of the Manchester United he wants to evolve over the next four or five years. Will he drive those around him to the level of Manchester City?

Bewildering

The Pogba phenomenon, his status as one of the greatest players of his age, is bewildering. His reputation exceeds his contribution. I have heard Pogba described as world class. Being a World Cup winner does not automatically make you that.

There is a difference between a world-class talent and a world-class player. There are those for whom it is always seems to about their potential - what he could be and what he occasionally shows - not what they deliver week after week.

Since Pogba's first spell at Old Trafford there has been anticipation that he would become the dominant central midfielder of his generation, fuelled by the manner of his departure to Juventus as a teenager and the subsequent desperation of United to get him back.

He played his best football as a left midfielder in Turin without justifying what United paid to re-sign him, and he was a key member of France's World Cup-winning side by enforcing a disciplined, tactical role rather than a spectacular or thrilling one.

Even during those more encouraging moments he has shown nothing to suggest you can build a team around him. Juventus didn't. France didn't. They found a way to accommodate him because it has never been obvious what his best position is. A succession of managers have tweaked their system on his behalf.

He does not have the discipline to be a deep, defensive midfielder, nor the influence to be a modern No 8 in the mould of Kevin De Bruyne.

This season he has nine assists and 13 goals (seven penalties), which is his best return at United, helped by his brief run of good form after Jose Mourinho's exit in December. On the surface these are good statistics but anyone who regularly watches him can see he does not do enough at both ends of the pitch to be the heartbeat of an elite team.

When United paid a world-record fee for him three seasons ago, they were expecting a transformative impact - for Pogba to be a catalyst for success in the same way as Yaya Toure when he joined City, Frank Lampard at Chelsea, and Steven Gerrard at Liverpool.

We all thought Pogba would be a dynamic, marauding midfielder with the freedom to get forward and drive United to titles and deep into the Champions League.

In his first season United were sixth. They are still sixth. There are many reasons for that beyond one player. It does not change the fact that during his three years at United, Pogba has not been the midfielder everyone thought he was.

There is a massive gulf between Pogba's influence at United and the standards set by David Silva, De Bruyne and Fernandinho a few miles away. For them, bad games are rare.

There are no brief, explosive spells during a season, but consistent, top-level performances, bringing the best from themselves and - just as importantly - those around them.

When Mourinho was dismissed, I had no doubt what the club should do next.

"United have sent a strong message by sacking Mourinho," I wrote. "They should be equally strong in their attitude to Pogba and sell him. Toxic personalities are of no use to a club. They destabilise everything."

After the brief revival when Solskjaer was in caretaker charge - during which time Pogba showed more of his talent - plenty were asking if I intended to revise opinion. "No. Let's wait and see what happens in a few months time," I replied. This is no knee-jerk reaction against Pogba because of his performance at Everton last week, or after seeing his average contribution to the Manchester derby.

The knee-jerking came from those who argued we would see him flourish and inspire United to a higher standard because of a few good games after Mourinho left.

United have a choice. Pogba has two years left on his current deal - with the club having an option for a third. If they do not sell Pogba they will have to offer him a new contract over the next year or two. What will he demand? Around £400,000 a week? Is he worth it?

Over the last few years Pogba has been linked with a return to Juventus, a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid and even Pep Guardiola said he was offered to City. Until his contract is renewed that circus will continue, Pogba being advertised by his agent as one of the best in the world who the top clubs and coaches are queuing to work with. It gives the impression he wants to leave.

There has been enough damage done to United on the field since Ferguson's retirement.

The idea of them pandering to a player who has done nothing to warrant comparison with past and modern greats would cause even more damage to United's reputation off it.

The greatest clubs - of which United will always be one - thrive when footballers are grateful to be there, not when the club yields to the players.

Solskjaer has to ask himself many searching questions about numerous members of his squad.

It comes down to this: "What will United be losing if this player goes?" In Pogba's case, they will gain far more.

Telegraph.co.uk

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport