Sunday 18 August 2019

Kevin Palmer: 'Solskjaer needs to cleanse Manchester United of one of the symbols of their decline'

Solskjaer needs to get rid of Paul Pogba
Solskjaer needs to get rid of Paul Pogba
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

What happens next in the Paul Pogba story could make or break Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign as Manchester United manager.

After weeks of media leaks suggesting Pogba wants to leave United were backed up by comments from the player and his notorious agent Mino Raiola confirming their joint desire to make another small fortune on a transfer three years after they orchestrated a move for a world record fee from Juventus, the duo are mobilising once again in the chase for cold, hard cash.

It won't be long before we hear Pogba and his 'handler' telling us that a player of his calibre needs to be playing in the Champions League, yet sporting ambition is only a part of the reason why the player who likes to believe he is one of the best players in the world wants to switch clubs once again.

The seeds of this story can be traced back to January 2018, when United signed Alexis Sanchez on a free transfer and handed him a weekly salary that made Pogba's reported £300,00-a-week contract look like a pauper's wage.

Once Sanchez was handed a deal that ensured Pogba was no longer the highest earner at the club - even if that salary was inflated due to the fact he moved on a free transfer - the wheels were set in motion for his exit from the club as his performance levels on the field and in training continued to fluctuate in alarming fashion.

His very public spats with manager Jose Mourinho ended with the United vice-captaincy being taken away from a player reportedly labelled 'a virus' by his now departed boss, with his performances noticeably lifting when Solskjaer took over as manager last December.

Yet by the end of last season, it was clear that Pogba's commitment to United was merely fleeting, as links with Real Madrid and then Juventus continued to be fuelled by 'sources close to the player', with Solskjaer struggling to defend his star man as the final weeks of the season ended with a series of poor displays from the World Cup winner.

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That before Pogba confirmed it was 'time for a fresh challenge' away from United while at a promotional event last month with Raiola's confirmation that he is working on a deal to move his asset once more, fuelling speculation that the player may not turn up for the club's pre-season tour of Australia.

A somewhat subdued Pogba did show up for that flight to Perth yesterday, but there is now no doubt that he wants to leave United for a second time in his career and that stance presents Solskjaer with an opportunity to stamp his authority in his job many observers feel he lacks the qualification to succeed in.

United's policy of signing superstars has contributed to an unhealthy dressing room culture that has undermined their efforts on the field in the last few years and in a summer when the club have adopted an altered transfer strategy starting the best young English players, the Pogba problem needs to be dealt with swiftly.

While Solskjaer may not be permitted to state publicly that he wants Pogba out of his dressing room, he can exert pressure on the club's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to rid the club of an ego whose contributions on the field have long since been outweighed by the negative attention he attracts off it.

Pogba wants to go to Real Madrid to realise another of his 'dreams', so Solskjaer should urge the club to do all they can to direct him towards the exit door and then make it clear that he encouraged his departure.

Off-loading a troublesome child who wielded enough power to hasten the downfall of Mourinho and is now doing what he does best by chasing another cash pot, could be a defining moment in Solskjaer's managerial career and it would also suggest his influence with the club's chief decision makers is more pronounced that some who have gone before him.

Even if Woodward makes the final decision on Pogba's future, Solskjaer would be wise to take ownership of a sale that would be supported by a majority of the club's supporters who have grown tired of the circus this unreliable attention seeker carries with him.

Pogba at his best would be missed by United, but that version of this modern day football brand has not been in evidence too often during his three years back at Old Trafford and for that reason, Solskjaer needs to cleanse his club of one of the symbols of their decline.  

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