Manchester United must make Paul Pogba earn right to make a move

Ronaldo and Suarez both flourished during their 'one more year' before Spanish switch

Year of the Pog?: Paul Pogba showed impressive commitment and skill during Manchester United’s opening day victory against Chelsea. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

In a parallel universe, Manchester United sold Paul Pogba to Real Madrid at the start of the transfer window and Christian Eriksen shelved his dream of playing in Spain to become his replacement at Old Trafford.

They even had a chunk of change to invest elsewhere in an unbalanced squad which still needed a drastic overhaul and carries no fewer than seven central defenders.

It did not happen, of course, and so the "new challenge" that Pogba spoke about at the end of last season as he tried to force his way out of Old Trafford for a second time is to see whether he can knuckle down and provide the midfield leadership that a team and club in transition - as ever, it seems - desperately need.

Pogba is well aware not just that the transfer window remains open in Spain - and in Italy - until the beginning of next month, but that Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is increasingly annoyed that the club have not managed to broker a deal with United despite, or perhaps because of, their heavy spending this summer.

Hence Pogba's post-match comment after United's opening weekend victory over Chelsea that "time will tell" and there is a "big question mark" over his future. The suspicion is there always will be that question mark with a character such as Pogba.

Only 11 months ago, after another summer of trying to leave, he apparently called a "truce" with the then-United manager Jose Mourinho. We all know how that worked out.

Conciliatory

Except there was a more conciliatory tone to what Pogba said after the Chelsea game, which hinted at someone who knows, for now, that he probably has to stay where he is. There was also the sight of him at the end of the match applauding all four corners of the stadium and handing his shirt to a fan.

It was very different to the scene after the final game of last season, the 2-0 home defeat by Cardiff City, when Pogba stood in almost the same spot and listened to an angry fan telling him to "Pack your bags and f*** off".

But the only offer United received was £27.3 million and James Rodriguez, which was rejected out of hand.

It is also an offer that United can point Pogba to and say, fairly: "This is how much they want you right now."

I wrote last season that it always looked more likely that Pogba would leave United in the summer of 2020, given the complications and scale of the deal and, while I still think it would have been in their interests to move him on during the window which has recently closed, there is a way out of this that can suit everyone.

United and Pogba only have to look at what happened when Luis Suarez was persuaded to stay at Liverpool for one more year before securing his move to Barcelona, or how Eden Hazard had to wait another season before going to Madrid. Or, most relevantly of all, refer back to Cristiano Ronaldo's departure from United to Real in 2009 after helping them to a third successive league title and another Champions League final, which came less than a year after Alex Ferguson said he would not sell the Spanish club "a virus".

Virus is also the word that Mourinho used to brand Pogba in a withering attack on the midfielder after a 2-2 draw with Southampton last December, and there is the danger that the Frenchman will not be able to hold it together this season - in the way that Suarez, Hazard and Ronaldo did - especially if United have another difficult campaign.

But what if he did hold it together? What if he showed the willingness to work and the flashes of brilliance that he did against Chelsea? Flashes of brilliance - such as his pass to Marcus Rashford and his run to create Daniel James's goal - that no other United player is capable of?

If anything, Pogba tried too hard and there was also the maddening regularity with which he lost the ball as he attempted a trick.

Signs

Maybe that will never change, but there are signs that it might just work, with United emphasising that they regard him not just as a world-class midfielder, but someone who demonstrated the right attitude and approach throughout their pre-season tour.

Next year, Pogba will be 27 - the same age as Suarez when he secured his move to Barcelona in 2014, and a year younger than Hazard - and Real will surely still remain a probability, especially with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos another year older.

Otherwise, did they ever really want him that much? Maybe Pogba's fear is that Zidane will not be there and the nightmare scenario of Mourinho replacing him unfolds.

Right now, it is in his, and United's, best interests to stay one more year. It may even be smart of United to try to broker an informal agreement with Real once the Spanish window is closed and for that to be communicated to Pogba.

After all, it would be some incentive for him knowing he has his dream move but can also, finally, leave a more memorable and cherished legacy at United. (© Daily Telegraph, London)