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If Paul Pogba leaves Manchester United, Old Trafford chiefs must shoulder the blame

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Paul Pogba is approaching the end of his second spell at Manchester United, but it has reached the stage where nobody is even noticing that the clock is ticking down to his inevitable departure in the summer.

There will be recriminations and accusations from all sides when he heads through the exit door, but United will be fooling themselves if they believe that the blame for Pogba’s failure to live up to the hype at Old Trafford is solely down to the 26-year-old.

Pogba’s time at United since returning to the club from Juventus in August 2016 has been a tale of underachievement and mismanagement, and each party has been badly let down by the other. But after a season that has seen him make just eight first-team appearances due to injury, Pogba’s United career is fizzling out into nothingness.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will take his United squad to Marbella on Friday for a short training camp during the Premier League’s first midseason break, but Pogba won’t be on the trip. Six weeks after saying that Pogba would be out for “three or four weeks” due to a minor ankle operation, Solskjaer has chosen not to include the midfielder in his squad in Spain because he has been deemed not ready to train with the rest of the team. It has almost reached the stage where questions are no longer asked about Pogba’s fitness because the vague responses have proved to offer nothing in terms of clarifying exactly when he will be ready to pull on a United shirt again.

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Sources have told ESPN that nobody of any consequence at United expects the France international to be at Old Trafford next season. Pogba’s teammates believe he will leave the club, while senior figures no longer go through the motions of insisting that the player will still be part of the squad for the 2020-21 campaign. The fact that he is missing the trip to Spain is another indication that we are now in the endgame of Pogba’s second spell at United. Had he been regarded as a key figure in Solskjaer’s plans, he would have been taken to Spain to work on his fitness with the rest of the squad rather than being left to his own devices elsewhere.

As recently as Wednesday, Pogba — ranked No. 6 among the world’s top midfielders in ESPN’s FC 100 — was posting videos on his Instagram story of Adidas billboards bearing his image on the side of a road in the Middle East. During his lengthy spells on the sidelines this season, we have grown accustomed to Pogba being anywhere but Manchester, sharing video from Dubai, Miami or France.

All of this has been done with United’s blessing, with sources telling ESPN that Pogba has been allowed to travel the globe during his rehabilitation. He has, United insist, been sticking to his fitness programme, but it’s just a shame that he never seems to be close enough to a return to action to be able to show himself putting in the hard yards at the club’s Carrington training centre.

Paul Pogba’s world-record move to Manchester United was not the catalyst for success it was hoped to be.

United have indulged Pogba by allowing him to embark on his globe-trotting fitness programme, but perhaps that is because they have let him down so much since re-signing him four years ago that it is a vain attempt to repay him for the failure to deliver on the vision that was sold to him by the club. Back then, Pogba followed Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Old Trafford because United wanted to reclaim their place at the summit of English and European football. Pogba was the man who would lead that drive on the pitch, at the same time as giving the club a huge commercial lift thanks to his status as a social media phenomenon.

The first season worked out well, with United winning the EFL Cup and Europa League, which ensured Champions League qualification and money was again spent that summer to bolster the squad. But since the disastrous acquisition of Alexis Sanchez in January 2018, United have retreated from the big signings and allowed the squad to wither. The big ambition that was sold to Pogba has not been reflected by the player recruitment and the 2018 World Cup winner will now look around the squad and wonder how United can ever achieve their ambitions with a group of players who simply aren’t good enough to take them to the next level.

Despite his infuriating shortcomings, Pogba is still a world-class attacking midfielder and a player capable of shining for a club such as Real Madrid, Juventus or Barcelona. He could, and should, have done more on the pitch to haul United to a better place than where they currently are, but it is no surprise to see him now virtually checking out of the club before this season has come to a close.

Sources have told ESPN that some players and coaches at United have grown so tired of Pogba and his contribution this season that few tears will be shed when — rather than if — he moves on. But big players don’t seek to move elsewhere if their ambitions can be achieved where they already are — something United executive chairman Ed Woodward and Solskjaer will come to realise. Nobody has come out of this saga with their reputations enhanced, but the only losers will be United.

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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