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new line-up Manchester United ponder a formation change that could put Paul Pogba centre stage

Getting best out of French star will do wonders for Ole


Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates with Paul Pogba. Photo: Martin Rickett/Reuters

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates with Paul Pogba. Photo: Martin Rickett/Reuters

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates with Paul Pogba. Photo: Martin Rickett/Reuters

Jadon Sancho is in the bag, with Raphael Varane and Kieran Trippier almost certain join him at Manchester United.

For once, the Old Trafford decision makers are not running around the supermarket throwing whatever is left on the shelves into their basket and hoping the ingredients all somehow come together.

Summer-transfer windows have often resulted in buyer’s regret at Old Trafford owing to the previous mix-and-match policy.

Yet, new head of recruitment John Murtagh and technical director Darren Fletcher had a planned -out shopping list.

The signing of £73m-winger Sancho, especially after Borussia Dortmund wanted £108m for him a year ago, smacks of great budgeting.

Varane will cost around £50m from Real Madrid and, at the age of 28, the French World Cup winner is the perfect partner for Harry Maguire.


Bruno Fernandes (right) has bite but not the vision of Pogba.

Bruno Fernandes (right) has bite but not the vision of Pogba.

Bruno Fernandes (right) has bite but not the vision of Pogba.

Trippier is two years older but will cost only around £18m from Atletico Madrid.

As he proved this summer during England’s Euro 2020 march to the final, he is tactically astute and can play on both flanks.

His arrival could see United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer move to a three-man back line, with right-back Aaron Wan Bissaka joining Maguire and Varane, and Trippier and Luke Shaw pushed up as wing-backs.

Yet, no matter how encouraging Solskjaer’s recruitment plans may be, the most crucial target remains within his own squad’s ranks.

Once upon a time, maybe even 12 months ago, it might have been logical to take the money and run for Paul Pogba.

Now it would be madness not to tie him and his future down for a further five years.


Although there is one proviso: and that is that he is finally given licence to roam and express talents that, as he showed for France during the Euros, still make him one of the world’s great midfielders.


Solskjaer has won Pogba’s heart and mind.

Solskjaer has won Pogba’s heart and mind.

Solskjaer has won Pogba’s heart and mind.

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True enough, Pogba has been seen throughout most of the past five years as an enigma.

There have been times when he has appeared more interested in emojis and haircuts than playing for the club that broke its transfer record to bring him back from Juventus for £89m.

Agent Mina Riola agitated for two of those years to get him to Real Madrid.

Now Paris Saint-Germain are sniffing, with the Spanish club no longer giants when it comes to finance – like their La Liga rivals Barcelona.

They are stuck for cash and can no longer afford Pogba’s wages, far less a transfer fee that would still be around £80m, no matter that the 28-year-old’s contract has 12 months to run.

Yet, Pogba’s disillusion was created by the man who signed him.

Jose Mourinho played him too deep and almost ruined him.

And when Pogba complained, Solskjaer’s predecessor made things as negative for him off the pitch as he did on it.

Pogba has it in him to be a genius. Yet, Mourinho treated him like a hod carrier. Little wonder that he wanted out.

One of the triumphs of Solskjaer’s reign has been in winning back the heart and mind of the Frenchman, who is now at of his career.

The next step must be to allow him to fully flourish, just as Didier Deschamps does when he is in charge of him at international level.

True enough, Pogba makes mistakes.

He can be caught in possession and he must work on better concentration when he has the ball in dangerous areas. But he loses the ball because he is trying to be creative.

Were he to be losing it in the opposition half – as opposed to grinding away in front of the defence, as he had to do so often under Mourinho – that problem becomes far less of a concern.


Yet, were he playing regularly in the opposition half, or picking up possession on the United side of the half-way line and running forward, he would be of huge concern to his side’s opponents.

Solskjaer, after signing the effervescent Bruno Fernandes, was right to give the Portuguese the responsibility of being United’s main playmaker. But that was then and this is now.

While Fernandes has bite and belligerence about him, few could argue he has the same class as Pogba, who sees chances on a football field that few others in the world do.

Fernandes could still act as the chief instigator of attacks, which would buy into his ego – provided Pogba was allowed the freedom to play without defensive responsibility and indulge himself as the man behind the main striker.

The pair, anyway, have struck up an understanding.

Fernandes is the busybody, Pogba is the true artist and, between them, they have a combined charisma, far less creativity, that, when encouraged, would provide a pathway to triumph.

Pogba will cost £100m in wages over the next five years should talks on a new deal come to fruition.

Yet, where else, for that kind of money, would United find a midfielder of such ability, not forgetting the powerful build and athletic prowess?

Don’t forget the passing acumen, either. He picks out 50-yard passes like almost no other player in European football.

And in Sancho, as well as Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, the kid who United insiders still maintain has the potential to be one of the greatest strikers of his generation, Pogba has players intelligent enough to respond to his probing.

The Frenchman has been included in photo shots of his club’s new kit for the coming season, underlining suggestions that Solskjaer believes he will be signing on for several more years.

Were he to confirm that he is staying put for what would effectively be the third coming of his United career – the moment when the former youth player is finally given the platform his abilities warrant – he could be the catalyst of a first title triumph since 2013.

Such success has been a long time coming. Then again, allowing Pogba to just be himself is also something that has taken far too long.

But it might also not be too late for that to happen.

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