At the time of writing, Manchester United are due to play Arsenal in just five hours’ time and nobody seems to know whether Paul Pogba will take any part in the game or not.
Pogba did not travel to London on the train with the rest of the squad, fuelling speculation that he is set to miss another game, even though manager Olé Gunnar Solskjaer had declared the player fit and available for the game just three days ago.
It could be that Pogba will make his own way to the Emirates. It could be that he has aggravated the ankle injury that has kept him out for most of the season. Or it could even be what the conspiracy theorists claim – that the Frenchman is sulking or even striking because he wants to leave Old Trafford.
Whatever the case, one thing is certain: Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, is not helping the player to feel settled at Old Trafford. In fact, Raiola seems to be doing everything he can to drive a wedge between player and club.
Midway through December, Raiola had a lot to say about United in an interview with The Telegraph. ‘The club needs a specialist, a sports director, someone between the team, the coach and the owners… and I feel that is lacking at Manchester United’ said the former pizza chef. ‘Sometimes it seems the club is more concerned about the economic part than the sports part … United, maybe, are lacking an identity.’
This was the subtext to an interview in which Raiola claimed that Pogba was happy to stay at Manchester United, an interview in which the sentence ‘Paul wants to be successful and happy and wants to win prizes and he would love to do that with Manchester United’ was a single bouquet amongst a plethora of brickbats criticising the Red Devils.
The relationship between agent and club deteriorated further just three days ago. United lost out on their top transfer target, Norwegian striker Erling Haaland, who signed instead for Borussia Dortmund. The word from Old Trafford was that Raiola and Haaland’s agent-father Alf-Inge had insisted on a €50 million buy-out clause and other stipulations that would effectively leave control of the player’s contract. Raiola has denied this, saying ‘I do not know if Manchester United are briefing this but if they are then they are covering their own loss and that I find strange and disappointing.’
That would be that, you would think. Pogba is staying, Haaland is not coming. But Raiola has continued to vent his frustrations at the Manchester club. In an interview with Italian outfit La Repubblica (via The Telegraph ‘Now Pogba’s problem is Manchester. It is a club out of reality, without a sports project…Today I would no longer take anyone there, they would also ruin Maradona, Pelé and Maldini. Paul needs a team and a club, one like Juventus.’
Fighting talk from the Dutch-Italian mogul.
Mino Raiola on Manchester United:
"Today I would no longer bring anyone there. They would also ruin Maradona, Pele and Maldini."
— Coral (@Coral) December 31, 2019
The friction between Manchester United and Raiola goes back a long way, to the days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure. Sir Alex once famously called Raiola a sh*t head, amongst other things. Raiola again denies any animosity, but chooses to refer to the legendary manager as simply ‘Ferguson’: ‘People think I hate Ferguson. I don’t hate Ferguson or Guardiola. I don’t hate anyone.’
Happy 78th Birthday to Sir Alex Ferguson.
Here he is slating Mino Raiola for ruining football. "Pogba has a bad agent, a shit bag. There are one or two football agents I simply do not like and Mino Raiola is one of them." pic.twitter.com/VBPVDFsMoA
— 360Sources (@360Sources) December 31, 2019
United are not the only club to have lost out on a transfer target by refusing to accede to Raiola’s demands. Matthijs De Ligt’s transfer to Barcelona famously collapsed in the summer when the Catalans refused to pay Raiola’s €8 million agent fee. The Dutchman joined Juventus – a club with which Raiola has excellent relations – instead.
???? — Mino Raiola broke De Ligt's dream of joining Barça. [md]
Raiola was clear from the start: he wanted 8m euros for himself. Barça rejected this offer and Raiola reportedly told De Ligt – 'Stay at Juve for 3 years and then you can join Barça.' [1/2] pic.twitter.com/6EOElE5Uo0
— Barca Universal (@BarcaUniversal) December 28, 2019
Whilst it is probably fair to say that the majority of Manchester United fans do not see eye-to-eye with executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and the Glazer family on most matters to do with the club, you get the impression that most will applaud the stand that the board has taken against Raiola on both the Pogba and Haaland situations.
Manchester United rejecting Haaland at the 11th hour when Mino Raiola tried to change terms and control future deals is BRILLIANT from Manchester United and consistent with our behaviour over the summer.
I am absolutely chuffed, we should never yield to players or agents.
— Terry Flewers (@TFTYouTube) December 29, 2019
Irrespective of the club’s current situation, Manchester United is and always will be one of the biggest clubs in the world, and should not be held to ransom by arrogant and avaricious agents who put their own interests ahead of those of the club and the player. As for where all this leaves Paul Pogba as we enter another transfer window, only time will tell.